Some eight Filipinas have been awarded the prestigious Meryl Williams Fellowship by the Australian Government through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

“As we celebrate the Philippines National Women’s Month, I congratulate these outstanding Filipina women who have been selected for their demonstrated capacity for leadership and innovation, their research excellence, and their commitment to agricultural development,” Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson AO said in a statement on Wednesday.

For decades, agricultural science has focused on addressing food security by producing more food.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance, and necessity, of transforming food systems to become healthier and more resilient amidst the impacts of crises and the ever-growing demand for food.

“The Australian Government is at the forefront of efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Meryl Williams Fellowship is one of these efforts, focusing on supporting women who are steering transformational changes in agricultural research,” the Ambassador said.

“We are delighted to be investing in women’s leadership in our region and I am pleased to see that the Philippines has the largest number of Fellows this year,” he added.

Twenty-three women from across nine countries in Asia-Pacific were selected for the 2021 cohort of The Meryl Williams Fellowship.

Aside from supporting participants with career advancement, the Fellowship will also support the institutions that the Fellows work in to identify and address systemic barriers to women’s advancement.

As Australia celebrates its 75th year of diplomatic relations with the Philippines this year, education remains a mutual priority between the two countries.

Through the years, Australia’s capacity-building programs, including ACIAR Fellowships for agricultural research, have greatly contributed to the strong people-to-people and education links between Australia and the Philippines.

Dr. Reynaldo Ebora, Executive Director of the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) and member of ACIAR Policy Advisory Council said, “I commend Australia and the ACIAR for this flagship program, The Meryl Williams Fellowship, in its effort to enhance leadership skills and increase their impacts through a combination of immersive learning, mentoring, networking, and professional development for its Fellows.”

“Both DOST-PCAARD and ACIAR recognize the importance of incorporating gender and development in research and development initiatives. This is in line with both agencies’ efforts to help women scientists and researchers in agriculture. Such intersection of interests and advocacies are the reasons why the partnership between PCAARRD and ACIAR not only works but is also mutually beneficial,” Ebora said.

The Philippines cohort includes a horticulture and fruit production and management specialist, development communication expert, an agricultural economist, an agribusiness specialist, a leading veterinary microbiologist, and food safety expert, a coastal resource management specialist, an agricultural engineer, and an agricultural value chains and gender expert who is researching impacts of Covid-19 pandemic on food systems resilience.

The Filipina Meryl Williams Fellows are Ma. Cecilia Alaban (Science Research Specialist II, DOST-PCAARRD); Ma. Victoria Stephane Asio (Science Research Specialist I, University of the Philippines Los Baños); Raquel Balanay, PhD (Professor, Caraga State University); Cresilda Caning, PhD (Associate Professor, Central Bicol State University of Agriculture); Ma. Cynthia Rundina-Dela Cruz, DVM, PhD (Dean, Cavite State University); Venus Leopardas, PhD (Associate Professor, Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental); Maria Rosario Mosqueda, Ph.D. (Dean, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan); and Glory Dee Romo, PhD (Assistant Professor, University of the Philippines Mindanao).

The Meryl Williams Fellowship is delivered by GEAReD (Gender Equity in Agriculture Research for Development) under the University of New England in Australia. For more information on the Fellowship, visit: https://www.geared.global/.