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Top Ethiopian scientist being honored by international news organization

Media organization Doha Debates today announced that the latest individual honored in their SolvingIt series is Dr. Segenet Kelemu, one of Africa’s leading scientists and a role model for women in science and research around the world.

Doha Debate is a media organization based in Qatar and Washington, D.C. that engages people in conversations about global challenges through debates, town halls, podcasts, films and more. The group’s SolvingIt series has reached millions around the world, and honors top scientists, activists, and climate change leaders from African nations and other regions of the world.

sEGENTDr. Segenet Kelemu, who was born in Ethiopia and today resides in Kenya, is being recognized for her life’s work studying insects, human and plant health as a leading molecular pathologist.  Through her role as Director General and CEO of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Dr. Kelemu’s leadership helps drive sustainable development, boost food security and fight poverty in more than 40 countries throughout Africa.

Born in Finote Selam, Ethiopia in 1957, Dr. Kelemu was interested in science as a young girl. She witnessed a plague of locusts attack her village in western Ethiopia and devastate the town’s grass and vegetation.

“I come from a very poor agricultural village in Ethiopia where farmers struggle daily to control pests, control disease and simply to make a living from agriculture,” Dr. Kelemu has said. “My intention from the time I graduated from college was to apply my knowledge in science to make a difference in these farmer’s lives.”

Dr. Kelemu excelled in her studies and became the first woman from her region to attend Addis Ababa University, where she graduated first in her class. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Montana and her PhD from Kansas State University, before pursuing postdoctoral studies at Cornell University. Her area of study was plant pathology and genetics.

After working abroad for 25 years as a plant pathologist, Dr. Kelemu returned to Africa in 2007 and later obtained a leadership role at ICIPE at Nairobi. As part of her work, Dr. Kelemu studies the role of insects — the most abundant animal on the planet.

Her research team at ICIPE examines: How can farmers control insect pests and improve soil? What is the best way for the world’s growing population to feed our nations and combat rapid climate change?  And how can insects serve as an important food source for both humans and livestock?

As Dr. Kelemu has shared, “Insects have many health benefits. They are high in protein, fiber, minerals, sterols and antioxidants. They multiply fast and they need limited water and land resources” — factors which make insects useful for farmers and the global food supply.

Dr. Kelemu has also stated, “We have to do things differently to protect our environment and our planet and at the same time feed the growing population and meet the nutritional requirements. Good research and science are crucial contributions.”

Dr. Kelemu’s body of work has brought attention to Africa’s important ecosystem of insects for global opportunities.  For close to three decades, her team of top scientists has contributed research and science to address agricultural challenges in Asia, Latin America, and North America in addition to her native continent of Africa.

SolvingIt” is a series from Doha Debates that recognizes change makers from around the world, with a focus on the next generation of leaders. The series has previously recognized 25-year-old climate change activist Vanessa Nakate of Uganda.

Other individuals featured in 2021 include Nigerian climate activist Joshua Gabriel Oluwaseyi, marine biologist Shaama Sandooyea of Mauritius, Uganda’s Nyombi Morris, Marie Christina Kolo of Madagascar and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an environmental activist and geographer from Chad.

For the SolvingIt series, Dr. Kelemu’s portrait was illustrated by artist Roshi Rouzbehani, an Iranian illustrator based in London who wrote the book, “50 Inspiring Iranian Women,” featuring women role models of Persian descent who have excelled in their fields.

Learn more about Dr. Kelemu at

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Jocelyn Austin

Media Consultant

Doha Debates