Agnes Matilda Kalibata, who earned a Ph.D. in entomology at UMass Amherst in 2005, has been selected to receive the 2019 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Public Welfare Medal.
Kalibata was chosen for the award based on her work to drive Africa’s agricultural transformation through modern science and effective policy, helping to lift more than a million Rwandans out of poverty and scaling impacts for millions more African farmers.
Since 2014, Kalibata has been president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African-led organization founded by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that works with public and private partners to promote rapid, inclusive, sustainable agricultural growth and food security.
As president of AGRA, Kalibata leads a staff of more than 200 across 11 priority countries—one of the largest pools of agricultural scientists and specialists in Africa—and works with global, regional, and national partners to drive a portfolio of investments worth more than $500 million.
Prior to her tenure at AGRA, Kalibata spent six years as Rwanda’s minister of agriculture and animal resources, implementing a science-based approach to agriculture that greatly increased efficiency and productivity and transformed Rwanda to a largely food-secure nation.
Roy Van Driesche, a retired UMass Amherst Extension entomologist in the plant, soil and insect sciences department and an expert in biological rather than chemical control of invasive and non-native species, was Kalibata’s Ph.D. advisor. He says, “My wife and remained friends with Agnes after she did her Ph.D. in my lab, working on biocontrol of banana weevil, a major pest of that staple crop for tropical Africa. She did her field work in Uganda but lived in Amherst for several years first to do her courses and then she returned for a year to write up the research. I visited her work plots in Uganda midway through this process.”
“Later, we visited her in Rwanda when she was the Minister of Agriculture, in 2011 I think, and toured the country during its recovery from the genocide,” Van Driesche continues. “Her job then was to expand agricultural production and distribution to keep up with and exceed population growth, which then meant the country’s population was doubling every 14 years. I want congratulate Agnes on this award, signifying as it does, years of very hard work to improve the life of ordinary people in Rwanda and other countries in tropical Africa.”