ICARDA’s Dr. Safaa Kumari is a BBC 100 Woman 2020
Dr. Safaa Kumari, an eminent Syrian plant virologist at ICARDA, has been acknowledged in the BBC’s 100 Women 2020 for her inspiring and influential work in protecting global crops from devastating diseases.
In the COVID-19 era, Dr. Kumari’s work in plant epidemiology to curtail epidemics that threaten worldwide food security is more revered than ever before.
“New plant viruses appear all the time,” says Dr. Kumari. “Like pandemics for humans, they are very dangerous if a treatment does not exist. They can devastate crops and spread to whole regions, decimating hard-won gains. Can you imagine what this means for rural farming families dependent on that income?”
ICARDA, part of the CGIAR global agricultural research network, is a non-profit organization that researches and executes innovative agricultural solutions in the highly climate-vulnerable dry regions of Africa and Asia.
One of Dr. Kumari’s many notable scientific achievements has been discovering varieties of faba bean (a staple-crop in the Region) that are immune to the faba bean necrotic yellows virus (FBNYV). This insect-transmitted disease has spread like wildfire across farmers’ fields in the region. Climate change and rising temperatures, creating a more favorable environment for increased insect activity, have enabled such diseases to spread quickly and wipe out harvests. At one point, Dr. Kumari even risked a perilous five-day journey from Damascus to Aleppo during unrest in Syria to save the seeds from approaching conflict.
And all this in a male-dominated sector. After receiving the prestigious BBC award, Kumari reflected on her work as a scientist and a woman in her field. ”Within a team tasked with overcoming such challenges, a woman’s contribution is equal to that of any man,” she said. “It’s a shame to discuss gender, but that is the reality. For me, it is about ability and accomplishment.”
In January 2020, CGIAR confirmed its commitment to gender issues by adopting a Framework and Action Plan for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) in global CGIAR workplaces. The two documents set out a clear shared vision for GDI and a plan to get us there. The Action Plan contains 22 key objectives, covering five principles: staff diversity, inclusive workplaces, raising awareness and reducing bias, accountability, and partnership.
ICARDA congratulates Dr. Kumari for this thrilling recognition of her work. When we notified her, she responded: “I am delighted to be included among so many great women, but my team, ICARDA’s staff, and the ongoing work of CGIAR all deserve to be recognized as well. But I am also glad to be a role model for other women and the next generation of plant virologists.”
Dr. Safaa Kumari
Head of ICARDA Seed Health Laboratory/Plant Virologist