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W. Bernice Armelle Bancole


Agricultural Sciences

The long-awaited dream

The long-awaited dream

I am originally from Benin. I did my undergraduate and master's degrees in Benin, which is a French-speaking country in West Africa. 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. To be able to penetrate the scientific community in Benin, especially to succeed as a scientist without any mentor or parents working in that field, is very difficult. All the cultural barriers and stigmas that face Beninese woman who choose this profession could make you unable to ever fulfill that dream.

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. The pathogenicity effect of those endophytic strains of Beauveria bassiana against the stalk borers, C. partellus and S. calamistis was proved through bioassays that were conducted in the laboratory, the greenhouse and in the experimental field.

In January 2017, I won the prize for the best student presentation at the 50th Anniversary congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (SASPP). After that, in the same year I went to the 22nd Meeting and Scientific Conference of the African Association of Insect Scientists (AAIS) in Sudan, where I gave a presentation about my work that was well-appreciated. The President of the Association forwarded to me many emails with nice comments from members and the chairperson.  An article has been published about me and my PhD research in the University of KwaZulu-Natal online newsletter. 

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 three years ago 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.

Finally, for the next step in my career, I would like to get a post-doctoral position or a junior researcher position in a good research institute that could help me first to improve my knowledge in my current field, but also to have the necessary income to achieve my dream of supporting young Beninese women who wish to pursue their study in science.

OWSD for me appeared as what we call in French “le rêve tant attend” – 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. OWSD changed deeply my life in a very positive way. It gave me the world exposure that any young African woman can wish to experience. 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. I’ve gotten my PhD just as wished. I will always be grateful for each member of OWSD for what they have done for me and for many other African young women.      

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