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Researcher wins women in science award for work protecting African rainforests

Posted on 1 June 2020

An environmental scientist from the University of York has won an award for her research into the protection and sustainable use of African rainforests.

Dr Aida Cuni-Sanchez and her field team in Ndouabale-Ndoki National Park, Congo. Photo: X. De Diego

Dr Aida Cuni-Sanchez won the sustainable development category of the 2020 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award for her work in the Albertine Rift region of central Africa. This extensive area of tropical forests is rich in native bird and animal species, such as the mountain gorilla, but is under threat from climate change and forest degradation.

Her research will explore which indigenous fruit and medicinal rainforest tree species can be grown in farmers’ fields in this mountainous region. She will work with local communities to pass on agroforestry and cultivation techniques helping to improve the nutrition and health of local communities - while helping fight climate change.

Dr Cuni-Sanchez, who is based in the University’s Department of Environment and Geography, said that learning how to cultivate these useful trees could open up new markets for growers including possible exports to Europe or America.

“The aim is to protect the rainforest from further degradation while also creating a sustainable income for local people. The cultivated trees will also have a role in carbon sequestration and storage, helping in the fight against climate change.”

The award will help Dr Cuni-Sanchez strengthen regional collaborations, including working with colleagues in Universite Officielle de Bukavu (DRC),  the University of Burundi and University of Rwanda. She also hopes the project will encourage more African women to pursue careers in science. 

L'Oréal UKI Chairman Geoff Skingsley said: “Women currently represent less than 30 percent of the world’s scientific researchers as a result of gender bias. The outstanding women we recognise through the Women in Science UK and Ireland Programme are not only exceptional in their respective fields, but also representative of the future of science. 

“We work to further the empowerment of women, enabling equal representation throughout the scientific community. Because the world needs science, and science needs women. ”

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