Several women in Ghana are trailblazing in academics within and beyond the University. This exclusive interview with Professor Irene S. Egyir, takes us through her journey to becoming the first female Dean of the School of Agriculture of the University of Ghana. In this segment, she shares with us her personal experiences, achievements and vision for the school and its contribution to the agricultural agenda of our dear country, Ghana.
AG: Congratulations Prof. How does it feel to become the first female Dean of the school of agriculture?
PE: I feel very excited and grateful to God. The journey has not been easy, so I consider this a great achievement. However, I became the first female Dean of the School of Agriculture since its 2014 inception to date.
AG: Is this the biggest achievement in your career?
PE: Hahahaha… Yes, rising to become Dean is a dream come true for me. As Dean, I make sure the units work and not only for faculty but for research fellows, students, and staff. I have sleepless nights and that’s an achievement.
AG: How were you selected?
PE: The criteria for becoming a Dean are very clear and unambiguous. At the University of Ghana, being a professor is one of the first requirements. Secondly, you need to have several publications to your name. You must have some sort of exposure as well and also your ability to source for grants and other forms of financing, which counts very much.
AG: Apart from the set criteria, was there anything else that prepared you for this position?
PE: Interestingly I have been Head of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Department for two terms. My first term was in 2012 and my later stint quite later on a few years later from 2017-2019. I guess these positions as leader of my department prepared me quite well for the bigger task of a Dean at this University.
AG: Was being a woman an advantage?
PE: I stood against a male counterpart but was selected based on my capabilities especially in terms of the multidisciplinary nature of my publications, grants-making, graduate supervision, exposure and achievements over the many years I have worked in the university.
AG: Have you always wanted to become an Agriculturist?
PE: When I was eight years old, I was introduced to community gardening as a ‘Brigadier’ in the Dunwell Methodist Church in Takoradi. As a student at Wesley Girls High School, where I studied agriculture, I participated actively in farming. This was how I developed my interest in agriculture. I opted to pursue agriculture because of its practical orientation even though I was offered Biological Sciences. So yes, I will say I have always wanted to be an Agriculturist. I just love agriculture and everything about it.
AG: Agriculture is broad, you could have been anything within the space so why a Professor?
PE: First of all, I love teaching and that is why I devote most of my time to training the young ones in the university. But aside from teaching I have worked and continue to work in many other sectors in the industry. For example, in 2012, I took a sabbatical to work at the Ministry of Finance on a USAID funded project as a Technical Advisor. I am also seriously involved in production because I own a 3-acre mango farm. Finally, I also do, in my small way, some value addition and agro marketing of honey, brown rice and other products. You can only be a better lecturer if you practice what you teach, so I prefer to lead by example.
AG: Prof, you are doing a lot, how do you balance career and motherhood?
PE: It is all about planning and not making excuses. This morning was my 20-Year-Old Daughter’s birthday. So, I had to wake up at 5 am and prepare mashed-plantain “Etor” so that my daughter will be happy. It is not possible to take a break from agriculture. So, my family and I decided that every year we will go on vacation. I try not to be too hard on myself so my family and I go swimming, visit the mall on weekends or buy ice cream. That is how I escape.
AG: So, you are a professor, farmer, trader, and family woman, any other surprises?
PE: I am a very active member of the Methodist Church and I teach the Teen’s Class on Sundays in my local assembly. I also like these women singing groups in the church so I join them and that is for religion. I also registered an NGO that links small and micro businesses to agro-services in Accra, we offer savings and credit for women and men in farming, trading, and processing. I am also a very active executive committee member of the Ghana Association of Agricultural Economists (GAAE).
AG: Prof, we know lecturers are known to publish a lot, can you share your experience here as well with us?
PE: Yes, when it comes to publications, I have over a hundred. I’m an Agriculturist and a multi-disciplinary person. I write about everything. I have written on gender, microfinance issues, policy issues, climate change, and resource management. So, I do not write on just farmers but anything that will progress the livelihood of actors in the agricultural value chain.
AG: What has been the most challenging period in your career?
PE: I would say bridging the divide between students and faculty. Some students with challenges find it difficult to approach us, just because we are lecturers. However, we try to create a warm and safe space for students to let out their brilliant ideas to help the department grow. Also, another challenge is raising funds to conduct educative and interactive sessions for students.
AG: What Piece of Advice Would You Share with The Future Generation of Women in Agriculture?
The future generation needs to learn, if you do not learn, you will not know. If you do not know, you cannot commit. And if you do not commit, you cannot do anything for yourself and society. I learn, know, commit and solve problems in society because this helps me progress and I’m able to give to others, just as it says in the bible love your neighbour as yourself that’s my daily mantra, so I do things for myself and I let it reflect on society.
Q: How Would You Describe Your Legacy in Agribusiness?
Everyone knows me as a no-excuse person and that’s me. I do not want you to use anything as an excuse so I try not to have excuses myself. I am known for saying it and not hiding a lot. I do not like cliques and I try to be level-headed.
AG: Prof you speak like a politician, any political ambition?
PE: I attempted to join the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) but I learned a thing or two about it and quit because I realized it’s not my area. I have not been part of any active political work although I have always attempted to. I have tried to serve in that light but realized politics is not for me.
AG: What should we look forward to in your tenure as Dean?
PE: Look out for the creation of innovative programs such as networking platforms, mentoring programmes that will make our students excited about agribusiness. We are exploring an incubation hub. The center will have a “green office”, that has an open area, with WIFI for students to have a fun learning experience. I seek to transform the personal development of young people for a better orientation of life.