Catherine Nakalembe; Harnessing Technological Possibilities

Dr. Catherine Nakalembe, a Ugandan researcher, was honored for her work in collecting data utilizing satellite technology to assist smallholder farmers in improving their farming practices.

When Nakalembe received a phone call alerting her that she and Dr. André Bationo of Burkina Faso had won the 2020 Africa Food Prize, she was going about her regular business.

After her educational path shifted before entering college, Nakalembe chose environmental sciences, a decision she hasn’t looked back on. She is a badminton player from Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and she is currently not only the winner of the Africa Food Prize but also the first recipient of the Inaugural GEO Individual Excellence Award and a 2020 UMD Research Excellence Honoree. Additionally, she oversees the NASA Harvest food security and agriculture program in Africa.

She has been using satellite data to create regional and governmental food security initiatives. In other words, the Ugandan scientist uses images from satellites above the Earth to inform decisions made by governments and farmers and to research weather and agricultural patterns, according to what she told the BBC. However, she must travel to the field as part of her job in order to observe things firsthand and acquire a better understanding of the crops’ state.

Communities in need of food have benefited from her work using satellites to increase farming. Farmers have the knowledge necessary to choose when to irrigate or how much fertilizer to apply.

She told the BBC that governments also use her data to plan for disaster response. Early study by Nakalembe, according to the source, avoided the worst consequences of a very changeable climate and a lack of rainfall for 84,000 people in Karamoja, north-eastern Uganda.

Nakalembe was born in Kampala, the nation’s capital, where her mother owns a café and her father is a mechanic. She stumbled into her current line of work. She enjoyed playing badminton with her siblings as a child, and she wanted to pursue a university degree in sports science. She focused on environmental science at Makerere University after failing to earn the grades necessary for a government grant.

She applied for a job with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to get course credit, and she really enjoyed the mapping and fieldwork at Mount Elgon there. The next step for Nakalembe was to enroll at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in geography and environmental engineering.

Her goal was to learn new things and use them in her own country. She was able to enter the field of remote sensing thanks to the University of Maryland’s Ph.D. program, but the most crucial thing, in her opinion, was returning to work in Uganda and other parts of the continent.

She is now working to inspire other Black women to take the same path.

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