Segenet KelemuNobel Conference 59

Segenet Kelemu

Segenet Kelemu

Director, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Nairobi, Kenya

Innovations in Insect Science

What roles can and do insects play in feeding a hungry world: as food for humans or for the animals we eat; as pollinators and sources of organic fertilizer; and also as devourers of crops and spreaders of disease in humans, animals and crops? Since 2013, plant pathologist Segenet Kelemu has been addressing this multifaceted question, through her role as Director of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Nairobi, Kenya, the only international institution in Africa working primarily on arthropods, the phylum to which insects belong. icipe is a regional and global leader in research for development (R4D) through insects and related arthropods and their impacts on food and nutrition security, human health, environmental sustainability, and livelihoods. Since 1970, the Centre’s achievements have reached many aspects of rural and urban life in Africa and beyond. 

Under her leadership, the Center’s “Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses (INSEFF) Programme” has taken a holistic approach to the roles that insects can play in sustainably feeding the world, by studying technologies for sustainably harvesting edible insects; by developing high-protein insect oil and other novel products that can be used in the food and health sectors; by researching ways of utilizing byproducts of insect production as fertilizer; and by building the systems that will enable such projects to be expanded and exported to other regions around the world.

Kelemu spent the first 25 years of her career as a plant pathologist, studying the relationships between plants and the symbiotic and pathogenic organisms to which they play host. In 2007, she decided to return to Africa in order to devote her scientific expertise to addressing developmental issues facing the continent. Since then, she has led three major scientific research centers in Africa; she is the first woman to hold the directorship of the icipe. Kelemu’s work has been recognized with numerous international awards and honors, including the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award; the Forbes Africa list of 100 most influential African women; and the Woman of the Decade by the Women Economic Forum, the largest global gathering of women leaders and entrepreneurs in the world. She has been named a fellow of both the World Academy of Sciences and the African Academy of Sciences. She holds a PhD in molecular biology and plant pathology from Kansas State University. 

Her talk: Considering the enormous role insects play in food systems, ecosystem health, and many facets of livelihoods, this presentation will highlight and take stock of icipe’s research for development (R4D) efforts in three areas. First, in less than a decade, icipe’s edible insects program has generated and disseminated ground-breaking knowledge and innovations on sustainable farming and harvesting of edible insects. Second, icipe is leading the field of arthropod symbiosis in Africa. One aim of this research is finding strategic entry points to reduce transmission of diseases such as malaria. Third, icipe researches “push-pull” technology that can simultaneously address a multitude of challenges such as stemborers, the fall armyworm, the parasitic weed Striga, mycotoxins, soil fertility, livestock feed, among others, that affect cereal-livestock farming systems in Africa.