I am originally from Benin, a French-speaking country in West Africa. I did my undergraduate and master's degrees in Benin. As I know and have experienced firsthand, it’s very difficult for women from Benin to choose to be a scientist. There are a lot of sacrifices in choosing to be a scientist. All the cultural barriers and stigmas that face Beninese woman who choose this profession could make you unable to ever fulfill that dream.
The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) appeared as what we call in French “le rêve tant attendu” – that is, “the long-awaited dream.” The OWSD fellowship came my way at the exact moment I was about to give up on my dream. With OWSD my dream of doing my PhD in a very good university, with a world-renowned supervisor and especially in an English-speaking environment without any financial stress has become a reality.
My research focuses on a new approach to pest control which will help to eradicate the abundant use of pesticides in our African countries. I’m using the entomopathogen fungus Beauveria bassiana as a biological control approach to control two stalk borers (Chilo partellus Swinhoe and Sesamia calamistis Hampson) that are economically important for several cereal crops (sorghum, rice, maize). They can cause losses of 40-70% in all cereal crops, which impacts heavily on food security in Africa.
The main goal of my PhD research has been to find a strain of Beauveria bassiana that can live for more than 30 days inside the crops’ tissues (roots, stem, and leaves) as an endophyte and protect the crops against the two borers’ attacks. To date, I have discovered a number of endophytic strains which live in the tissues of both plants - especially their stems - for at least 60 days. I have successfully isolated, tested and profiled novel biocontrol strains on sorghum and rice that have the potential to control the two stalk borers of cereal crops.
After completing my PhD, one of the important dreams I have and I wish to see become real is to open an educational foundation in Benin that will help young women from low-income families to pursue studies in science all the way to the PhD level. I’ve also started the process of establishing a National Chapter of OWSD in Benin, since there is not one currently. That will contribute to making more young female students aware of the organization's existence and will help those who wish to pursue their studies in science to apply for the OWSD fellowship, just as I have done. I will always be grateful for each member of OWSD for what they have done for me and for many other African young women.
W. Bernice Armelle Bancole
The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)
OWSD was founded in 1987 and is the first international forum to unite eminent women scientists from the developing and developed worlds with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership. OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world at different stages in their careers. OWSD is hosted by The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS), a UNESCO Programme based in Trieste, Italy.