How Catherine Nakalembe, a NASA researcher is helping Africa to secure food for the future

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Food security in Africa is a huge challenge the continent faces. Researchers like Ugandan Dr Catherine Nakalembe who works with NASA are using science to understand barren lands to find solutions to one of Africa’s biggest challenges.

Agriculture remains subsistent in several African countries meaning countries rely heavily on imports for food sources that could be alternatively home grown.

Recently a joint winner of the 2020 Africa Food Prize for her contribution towards the promotion of food security in Africa, Dr Catherine Nakalembe has been working with information from NASA’s satellites to understand how weather conditions affect her home country’s farming practices.

“My work focuses on understanding drought and agricultural land use in the Karamoja region in the northeast of Uganda.”

In her research she found out that this part of Uganda has severely lost its value and other areas in Africa share the same unfortunate story.

“When you look at the longer term information that I had access to, it seems like crops would almost fail every single year. This is still the case and substantive fairly across the region because the climate there is still variable.

You can have like three weeks of no rain and then you have two weeks of extreme rain. So both things result in crop failure.”

The NASA Harvest researcher says though, there is a solution. It is, however, unavailable to most African countries for several reasons she could not disclose.

“I started working in Tanzania on a project focusing on using remote sensing in technology to inform decision making in agriculture.

But this technology was not in the hands of a lot of decision makers and is still not across Africa. So I worked with the food security division in Tanzania and primarily what I was doing was a lot of capacity building to train them on how to use that system.”

Despite the challenges she has come across in her career so far, she presses on with a source of motivation her father planted in her when she was a little girl.

“From my dad I get problem solving skills. My dad taught himself how to be a mechanic so I would watch him work with spanners and stuff like that. He would never stop until he fixed something. We had a lot of dead radios in the house he would fix till this day.”

“So I’m never giving up.”

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