A passion for rural women led to Ifeoma’s international prize

Alumna Mabel Ifeoma Onwuka’s passion for rural women farmers, girls and humanity in general was recently acknowledged on an international stage. The Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) announced her as one of the ten 2023 WWSF Laureates to receive the WWSF Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life. Two-hundred and fifty-six women have benefitted from Ifeoma’s training so far with some farmers increasing their income by up to 85% after working with and learning from Ifeoma.

Ifeoma is a proud Australia Awards alumna (Australia Awards Short Course 2014, Soil and Water Conservation). She is a Professor in Soil Science and the Director of the Centre for Gender, Youth and Child Development at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike in Nigeria. The WWSF Award (US$ 1000 per laureate) acknowledges and promotes women’s contributions to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ifeoma trains women in the use of waste organic materials, compost and biochar (a soil condition) to improve soil nutrients and crop yields. Her success lies in her ability to translate complex research results into simple practical terms that the farmers understand and can apply to improve their soil and crop productivity.  She developed a low-cost pyrolysis drum unit which she trained rural women to use. The simple version consists of an old drum and a chimney. The women add the waste material (or feedstock) such as palm bunch into the drum, ignite it and allow it to burn for five to ten minutes resulting in the conversion of clean wood biomass and other materials into biochar – a functional material.

The biomass comes from a wide variety of sources such as dry grasses, harvest rests like maize biomass and husk, dry banana leaves, cocoa pod husk, sawdust, wood shavings, poultry droppings or cow and goat dung. When biochar is added to the soil, it neutralises acidity, increases soil nutrients, remediates soil contaminants, improves soil biodiversity and sequestrates carbon. It cleans the environment of waste materials and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming. The women use biochar in their farming practices and generate an income by selling it and their crops. She also monitors the farmers’ progress and assists them with adaptations and new technologies.

The WWSF is a not-for-profit, international, humanitarian, non-governmental organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland. The WWSF’s Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life has recognised rural women leaders and groups since 1994. To date, 486 prizes have been awarded to prize winners in over 140 countries who advance and improve the quality of life in rural communities.  Please visit their webpage at www.woman.ch

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