Women's Month 2023: Dr Sussy Munialo

August is Women's Month in South Africa. This year, we are shining a spotlight on the phenomenal women who are making strides in their areas of expertise for the betterment of humanity.

Dr Sussy Munialo is a true food security champion. She is making a difference in the world, one step at a time. As a postdoctoral research fellow at Future Africa, her focus is on unlocking the potential of indigenous crops. Her transdisciplinary approach, blending insights from various fields like systems analysis, value chain analysis, and policy research, helps her understand complex interactions within food systems and identify opportunities for intervention.

The start of her journey

Dr Munialo's journey to food security began with a strong belief. She believed that a society that has enough, nutritious food is strong and self-sufficient. When people have enough to eat, children can go to school, adults can work productively, and the whole community can develop and live in peace. This belief was the driving force behind her studies, research, and efforts to improve food security.

She started her educational journey at the University of Nairobi, where she pursued a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Sciences. Initially, she didn't plan to go beyond this level of education, but her perspective changed during her studies. Her undergraduate courses introduced her to various agricultural concepts that made her start thinking about creating a society with enough food for everyone.

After completing her bachelor's degree, Dr Munialo took on a research assistant role. Her focus was on African Leafy Vegetables, also known as "morogo" or "mboga za kienyeji" in kiswahili. These vegetables, including spider plant, nightshade, amaranth, pumpkin leaves, and crotalaria, are commonly consumed but their nutritional advantages were often overlooked. Her work involved collecting vegetable samples and testing their nutrient content. This research revealed the nutritional benefits of these vegetables, which inspired her, even more, to work toward food security.

Quest to Unlock the Potential of Indigenous Crops

Driven by her passion and the urge to learn more, she seized a scholarship opportunity for a Master's programme, which allowed her to delve deeper into researching indigenous crops. Her Master's research focused on creating innovative home gardens to enhance vegetable production, especially during dry seasons. These gardens aimed to help smallholder farmers, especially women, who often faced difficulties accessing vegetables during dry periods.

Dr Munialo received a grant to implement her technology among smallholder women farmers in Vihiga, Kenya. This hands-on experience working with these farmers deepened her understanding of the challenges they faced. She saw first-hand the critical role women play in providing food for their households and communities.

A Transdisciplinary Approach to Food Security

Her journey took another turn when she joined a consultancy firm, where she was exposed to various research concepts such as gender, policy, and value chain analysis. This exposure widened her perspective and taught her how to apply transdisciplinary approaches to solve food security issues. Dr Munialo's versatile nature allowed her to look at food security from different angles, which eventually led her to pursue a PhD programme.

For her PhD research, funded by the Swedish Research Council, Dr Munialo took on the challenge of understanding why maize yields were low on smallholder farms. She collaborated with mentors from the University of Nairobi and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, conducting multidisciplinary research that combined scientific and social perspectives. This research equipped her with valuable skills that she now applies in her current work, which focuses on using transdisciplinary approaches to promote the production and utilisation of indigenous African crops.

 

Her hopes for the future are that indigenous crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava, millets, and African leafy vegetables will become staple foods, enjoyed throughout the day.


Image of a female
Dr Sussy Munialo

Hopes for the future

Dr Munialo's advice to her younger self is that "consistent, gradual progress is more effective than trying to reach the sky in one leap." Her hopes for the future is that indigenous crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava, millets, and African leafy vegetables will become staple foods, enjoyed throughout the day.

She draws inspiration from a diverse group of women who have shaped her path, including Prof Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Prof Cecilia Onyango, her mother Gladys Waima Munialo, and all her friends. These women collectively motivate her to strive for excellence in both her professional and personal pursuits.