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Catherine Nakalembe, East Africa lead for NASA Harvest and a SERVIR Applied Sciences team scientist, was selected as an 2020 Africa Food Prize Laureate for her work expanding the use of Earth observations to increase food security across the African continent. An innovator in international food security, Nakalembe works with several NASA teams to help communities use satellite data to inform agricultural decision making, map and monitor field conditions, and prepare for possible crop failure in advance.

The Africa Food Prize recognizes an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the way to change the reality of farming in Africa. Previously known as the Yara Prize, it includes an $100 thousand-dollar award and is designed to celebrate Africans who undertake initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated, with a goal of creating a new era of food security and economic opportunity. The African Green Revolution Forum presents the award each year and endeavors to bring together stakeholders in the agricultural landscape to take practical actions and share lessons.

“I’m overwhelmed and honored at this amazing surprise,” Nakalembe said. “I hope the visibility this award gives our work will allow NASA Earth observations to reach and benefit even more people.” Speaking from her home in Uganda, Nakalembe said she celebrates this award with her colleagues at NASA Harvest. It is NASA's Food Security and Agriculture program and is an agency-sponsored consortium managed by the University of Maryland.

Photo of Catherine Nakalembe holding her award
Catherine Nakalembe with her award as the 2020 Africa Food Prize Laureate. Credits: NASA/Catherine Nakalembe

“We are proud of Catherine’s groundbreaking research on food security and are delighted that she’s being honored with the prestigious Africa Food Prize,” said NASA Earth Science Division Director Karen St. Germain. “Her passion for applying remote sensing data to agricultural decision making in Africa has helped small famers to thrive even in challenging climates which, in turn, has improved the lives of people across the region.”

In addition to her work with NASA Harvest and SERVIR Applied Sciences areas, Nakalembe is the SERVIR global theme lead for agriculture and food security projects. SERVIR is a joint initiative between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), SERVIR puts NASA Earth observation data into the hands of local decision-makers around the world.

"Catherine's work in connecting NASA resources with the people and projects who can best use them is an inspiration to us all," said Lawrence Friedl, director of NASA's Earth Applied Sciences Program. 

“This recognition is well-deserved for Catherine’s career of outstanding work,” said Bradley Doorn, program manager of the Earth Applied Sciences Water Resources program area. “I’m thrilled to be her colleague and excited for our collaborations to come.”

NASA Harvest partner Zara Khan of the data imaging company Planet speaks highly of Nakalembe’s ability to work across many agricultural sectors. “While I could list her accolades as a scientist here, what truly makes Catherine stand out is her vision for the future," Khan said. "She sees the power of technology to empower and transform agriculture-based communities to be self-reliant.

Khan adds, "The right information at the right place and time has the power to make all of the difference for a farmer."

More about Nakalembe's work can be found in a NASA.gov profile of her, "An Innovator in Food Security."

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By: Benjamin Hodgkins
Tagged: Capacity Building