Theogene Dusingizimana is an Access To Nutritious Food Fellow working to make biofortified crops more accessible to Rwandans in order to address food insecurity. In this interview, he talks about how fulfilling it is to teach Rwanda’s future food systems leaders, and why African governments need to invest more in academic research.
Who is Theogene, the food systems leader?
Theogene is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Rwanda, with particular interest in multidisciplinary research to inform policies in agriculture, food systems, nutrition, and health.
What do you teach and what excites you the most about your students?
I teach various subjects related to food and nutrition such as Agro-Food Value Chains, Principles of Human Nutrition, Food and Nutrition Policies, and Practical Nutrition and Dietetics. I am excited when my students see what we teach them as one step towards achieving their long-term goals. The best feeling is watching them graduate after four + years of ups and downs, and become successful entrepreneurs, or take up key positions in government and non-governmental institutions.
How can we get more young people involved in the academic side of food systems beyond attaining a basic education?
Upon obtaining their degrees, people take different career paths depending on their interests and long-term career goals. Knowledge is evolving and we need researchers to break new ground and advance our capacity. In order to get more young people involved in research, I think it’s important to identify opportunities for incentivizing them to pursue a research career. For example, bright students need to be provided with adequate financial assistance to motivate them to pursue research.
You recently received an IMMANA Postdoc Fellowship, congratulations! What does this mean for you and how will it help advance your food systems leadership?
Thank you. Yes, I am one of the six IMMANA Fellows, Round 7, and I am grateful for the opportunity. My project focuses on investigating how well Rwandans have taken to biofortified crops. This is important because biofortified crops can help in improving the quality of diets and have the potential to tackle micronutrient deficiencies. Being awarded the fellowship is a recognition and confirmation of interest in the type of research that I pursue. It will impact my food system leadership in many ways such as collaborations, mentorship and other resources that are made available to fellows.
Academic research is integral to food systems transformation. What three things can governments do today to ensure that researchers are well-supported and that relevant knowledge is applied?
The first, and perhaps the most important, is to increase government funding for researchers. Available data shows that government funding for research remains low especially in less developed countries. I understand governments have many competing priorities, however, it is important that policymakers find a good balance in their budgetary decisions so research does not receive just leftovers. The second is that governments should set priorities to ensure that researchers focus on the most relevant challenges facing food systems. Lastly, governments must also expand incentive and reward systems (for example, financial or other forms of rewards for publications, innovations and patents) and provide adequate infrastructure that can enhance researchers’ performance.
Looking back at your career journey, what would you do differently?
Well, you can always find things to do better but, overall, my career journey has been a positive learning experience, so I wouldn’t change anything.
You have been a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship for 10 months now. Why should food systems actors in Africa apply to join the Fellowship?
There are so many reasons why food systems actors in Africa should join the African Food Fellowship. The Fellowship offers opportunities to learn and sharpens Fellows’ systems thinking. It also helps us make connections, share ideas and experiences, all of which build our leadership capacity and help us identify areas where we can better play our role in food system transformation.