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Press release

Focus on food security: seven talented women scientists from the Global South awarded the 2023 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards

Amsterdam | February 21, 2023

Accelerating the careers of over 50 women researchers, the partnership has recognized prize-winning science from more than 20 developing countries since 2013

Seven researchers have been awarded the 2023 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing Worldopens in new tab/window for their contributions to research that is helping meet the challenge of food security and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, Zero Hunger, which focuses on agricultural productivity and sustainable food production.

The winners’ research explores a wide range of ways that food insecurity can be tackled, from crop disease resilience to improved child nutrition, and indigenous plant use to increase productivity. The prize also acknowledges the scientists’ commitment to leadership, mentoring and engagement within their communities, including the use of innovative technologies in their research.

Jennifer Thomson, President of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) said “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could achieve SDG2, Zero Hunger? Our amazing awardees for 2023 are trying to do their bit to bring this about – and what a ‘bit’ that is! Just read about the research they are doing in their regions of the developing world and I am sure you will be as impressed as I was when we selected them as the winners. We wish them every success in their endeavors.”

This year’s winners are:

  • Renuka Attanayake, of the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka: plant and molecular biology; crop disease identification and management

  • Carla Fabiana Crespo Melgar, of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, Bolivia: biotechnology and microbiology; increasing agricultural productivity

  • Haneen Dwaib, of the Palestine Ahliya University, Palestine: nutrition and dietetics; obesity and dietary interventions

  • Eugenie Kayitesi, of the University of Pretoria, South Africa: food science and technology; improved use of indigenous plant-based foods

  • Gabriela Montenegro-Bethancourt, of the Maya Health Alliance, Guatemala: life sciences and nutrition; maternal mortality and child malnutrition

  • Munkhjargal Tserendorj, of the Mongolian University of Life Sciences, Mongolia: veterinary medicine, animal and food hygiene; diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases

  • Yeyinou Laura Estelle Loko,Université Nationale des Sciences, Technologies, Ingénierie et Mathématiques, Benin: entomology, plant genetic resources and crop protection; insect pests and resistant crops

Seven researchers have been awarded the 2023 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World 

“With these awards, our vision is to celebrate these impressive women scientists who are helping to make real progress towards the UN SDGs,” explained Ylann Schemm, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation. “We know that a quarter of all women are engaged in agriculture, which makes them more vulnerable to both climate change and resource scarcity. By focusing on food security in 2023, we want to spotlight the important research undertaken by women who are inspiring role models for communities most affected by this issue.”

First awarded in 2013, the award is given in partnership by the OWSDopens in new tab/window and Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window. OWSD chairs a panel of distinguished scientists to select the winners, and the Foundation awards a cash prize for each winner of USD $5,000, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the 2024 5th Global Food Security conferenceopens in new tab/window to provide them with vital networking opportunities. The winners will also have the opportunity to publish their work in STAR Protocols, an open access, peer-reviewed journal from Cell Press which offers structured, transparent, accessible, and repeatable step-by-step experimental and computational protocols from all areas of life, health, earth and physical sciences.

Past Award winners have been invited to meet their country’s presidents, and have been celebrated by local, national and international media, while other winners have gone on to receive other prestigious awards and fellowships including L’OREAL-UNESCO’s For Women in Science Fellowships.


Notes for editors

Reference sheets for each award winner, with a more extensive biography and description of their work, are available upon request, please contact the Elsevier Newsroom at [email protected]opens in new tab/window. For interview requests, journalists can contact Rebecca Clear, Corporate Responsibility Communications Director at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.

Short bios of the 2023 winners

Prof Renuka Attanayake, Sri Lanka

Renuka Attanayake is a plant pathologist working on crop disease identification and management in Sri Lanka. Her projects include the optimization of a rapid detection method of coconut phytoplasma in Sri Lanka, and the identification of genetic diversity of white mold pathogen on cabbage and black mold on onions. With her work, she is contributing to the development of resistant inducer treatments and farmers' education to reduce the negative effects of some of the most common crop diseases in her country.

Dr Carla Fabiana Crespo Melgar, Bolivia

Carla Fabiana Crespo Melgar is a biochemist focused on increasing agricultural productivity as a crucial step to alleviate hunger. With her research, she is investigating the potential of using beneficial microorganisms and application protocols as biocontrollers, biofertilizers, bioinoculants and growth promoters for crop production in Bolivia and the region, with the aim of exploring ways that they can be produced locally by communities or small companies, once the technology and application protocols are validated.

Dr Haneen Dwaib, Palestine

Haneen Dwaib has a background in Nutrition and Public Health, and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. She is investigating dietary interventions to tackle obesity as a case of disguised hunger, since the lack of a decent, well-balanced diet causes deficits in the majority of micronutrients and occasionally macronutrients. Her research focuses on studying the gut microbiota and to find non-invasive early detection biomarkers of premature cardiovascular dysfunction and adipose tissue inflammation in pre-diabetic laboratory rats.

Prof Eugenie Kayitesi, Rwanda

Eugenie Kayitesi is a food scientist, who is trying to improve nutrition, diet diversity and food security in Africa developing unique products from underutilized food sources, as well as improving their nutritional composition and health promoting constituents. The core of her research relates to indigenous, underutilized African plant-based foods, such as legumes, cereals, green leafy vegetables and fruits. Her work has highlighted the importance of using readily available and affordable food crops to create food products with improved nutritional, functional and sensory quality.

Gabriela Montenegro-Bethancourt, Guatemala

Gabriela Montenegro-Bethancourt is a nutritionist and food scientist whose work contributes to strengthen primary health care in rural Guatemala. She works in the most impoverished communities in Guatemala’s to provide health care in Mayan languages and contribute to reducing maternal mortality and child malnutrition, overcoming barriers to the treatment of complex medical conditions, providing optimal care to children and adults with chronic conditions, and promoting access to clean water. Her research is designed to take into consideration nutrition’s broad strategic possibilities, such as empowering women, increasing the availability of nutrient-rich foods, improving access to health services, and design effective policies.

Dr Munkhjargal Tserendorj, Mongolia

Munkhjargal Tserendorj is a Veterinary Doctor with a PhD in Animal and Food Hygiene, who is helping Mongolia to control economically important tick-borne diseases. She has conducted national and international projects for strengthening capacities in the diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases, especially vector-borne diseases, leading to the development of effective strategies to decrease severe economic losses in the small ruminants' population in Mongolia. Data from these studies is now used as base information for initiating prevention and control programs.

Dr Yeyinou Laura Estelle Loko, Benin

Yeyinou Laura Estelle Loko is an Entomologist with a PhD in plant genetic resources and crop protection committed to the reduction of losses caused by insect pests. She develops control methods that respect human health and the environment, favoring the use of naturally resistant varieties, medicinal plants with insecticidal properties, entomopathogenic microorganisms, and predators. She is also working on the development of a digital toolbox and an intelligent monitoring system adapted to smallholder farmers for effective pest management in Benin.

To find out how the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award helps shape our understanding of the Global South, find out more about 2022’s winners here.

About OWSD

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing Worldopens in new tab/window (OWSD) provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world. Headed by eminent women scientists from the South, OWSD has more than 9,000 members and runs various programs, including a PhD fellowship programmeopens in new tab/window with over 360 successful graduates from Least Developed Countries and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an Early Career fellowship programmeopens in new tab/window providing research grants of up to USD$50,000 in addition to leadership training. OWSD is the only international forum to unite women scientists from the developing world with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership. OWSD is affiliated with The World Academy of Science (TWAS), a program unit of UNESCO, and is based in Trieste, Italy, with national chapters throughout the developing world. www.owsd.netopens in new tab/window

About The Elsevier Foundation

The Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window is a corporate not-for-profit 501(c)(3), funded by Elsevier, a global information analytics business specialized in science and health. Since 2006, the Elsevier Foundation provides over $1.5 million USD a year in grants to knowledge-centered institutions around the world, which address the UN Sustainable Development Goals through tech-enabled innovations in inclusive health and research. The Foundation offers a comprehensive matching gift and volunteering fund to enable employees to work with Foundation partners and support their communities. The Elsevier Foundation is part of Elsevier’s larger corporate responsibility program which centers on our unique contributions to sustainable development in gender, health, climate and reducing inequalities. 

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELXopens in new tab/window, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit



Giulia Signori

OWSD Communications

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Rebecca Clear

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