The National Academy of Sciences is presenting its 2019 Public Welfare Medal to agricultural scientist, policymaker, and visionary leader Agnes Kalibata “for her work to drive Africa’s agricultural transformation through modern science and effective policy, helping to lift more than a million Rwandans out of poverty and scaling impacts for millions more African farmers.” The medal is the Academy’s most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.
Since 2014, Kalibata has been president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African-led organization founded by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that works with public and private partners to promote rapid, inclusive, sustainable agricultural growth and food security by giving farmers access to locally adapted and high-yielding seeds, encouraging judicious use of fertilizer, promoting policy reforms, and increasing access to structured markets to improve the livelihoods of farming households. Prior to joining AGRA, Kalibata spent six years as Rwanda’s minister of agriculture and animal resources, implementing a science-based approach to agriculture that greatly increased efficiency and productivity and transformed Rwanda to a largely food- secure nation.
“Throughout her career, Agnes Kalibata has recognized that family farmers are the key to agricultural success, and she has consistently made them the focus of science-based policies and interventions,” said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award. “Under her leadership, a remarkable agricultural transformation is underway in Africa that will benefit many generations to come.”
“Agnes Kalibata has long championed science and evidence as the basis for practical agricultural policies that have transformed Rwanda to a model of prosperity and security,” said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “Her actions exemplify science as a powerful force for growth and well-being, and we are thrilled to present her with our highest award.”
As president of AGRA, Kalibata leads a staff of more than 200 across 11 priority countries — one of the largest pools of agricultural scientists and specialists in Africa – and works with global, regional, and national partners to drive a portfolio of investments worth more than US$500 million. AGRA’s goal is to improve the food security and incomes of 30 million farming households in the 11 countries by 2021; to date, more than US$360 million has been mobilized toward this effort. Principally funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K.’s Department for International Development, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa, AGRA’s focus has been on strengthening systems and tools to support Africa’s agriculture, such as high-quality seeds, better soil health, access to markets and credit, and on strengthening farmer organizations, private-sector capacity, and agricultural policies.
“Dr. Kalibata’s extraordinary contributions are the result of her distinctive combination of charismatic and inspiring management and leadership, her strong scientific background and technical expertise, and her tireless dedication to the African families to whom she holds herself personally accountable,” said Robert Horsch, deputy director of agricultural research and development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a letter of support for Kalibata’s nomination.
She is also widely heralded as one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa. During Kalibata’s tenure from 2008 to 2014, Rwanda reduced its poverty by more than 50 percent, largely through targeted agricultural programs for family farmers. Kalibata contributed to the growth of the nation’s agricultural sector from an annual budget of less than US$10 million to more than US$150 million annually. In addition, Rwanda became the first country to sign a compact under the African Union Commission’s flagship Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.
Dr. Kalibata joins the ranks of other distinguished past recipients of the medal including Paul Farmer (2018) for pioneering enduring, community-based treatment strategies that demonstrate the delivery of high-quality health care in resource-poor settings in the U.S. and other countries and Norman E. Borlaug (2002) who is widely considered the father of green revolution for his scientific achievements in developing new varieties of wheat and other grains and for his single-minded application of these in saving untold millions from starvation and death. See full list of past recipients: http://www.nasonline.org/programs/awards/public-welfare-medal.html
Kalibata received a doctorate in entomology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2005, and spent a decade of study and work with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute, in collaboration with Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Massachusetts. She briefly served as deputy vice chancellor for institutional advancement at the University of Rwanda before joining AGRA at the end of 2014.
In 2018, Kalibata was presented with an honorary doctorate from the University of Liege, Belgium, for distinguished leadership. In 2012, she was awarded the Yara Prize, now the Africa Food Prize, the pre-eminent award recognizing an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa. She is a member of many prominent national and international boards, including for the University of Rwanda, Africa Risk Capacity, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council, the Global Panel on Adaptation, and the Malabo Montpellier Panel of Agriculture and Food Security Experts.
The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Agnes Kalibata on April 28 during the Academy’s 156th annual meeting. More information, including a list of past recipients, is available at www.nasonline.org/programs/awards/public-welfare-medal.html.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine – provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.