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NASA Harvest’s Africa Lead, Catherine Nakalembe, Awarded Prestigious Al-Sumait Prize

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Catherine Nakalembe

Catherine Nakalembe, Africa Lead for the NASA Harvest Consortium, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, and SERVIR Applied Sciences team member, has been awarded the prestigious Al-Sumait Prize for leveraging machine learning and Earth observation data to improve food security and agricultural livelihoods across Africa. 


Since 2013, the Al-Sumait award has gone to recipients whose work or research has considerably advanced progress in food security, health, or education in Africa. Administered by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, the Al-Sumait Prize has a value of $1,000,000 USD. It recognizes the recipients for their efforts in improving economic and social development on the African continent. 


Each year, Prize awardees are selected by a Board of Trustees composed of philanthropists and experts in the field from organizations including the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This year two recipients were selected: Catherine Nakalembe and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).


As part of the selection decision, the Board of Trustees highlighted several parts of Nakalembe’s distinguished career including:

  1. Her PhD research that helped design an early warning and disaster response program in Uganda, unlocking aid for 90,000 households. For this work, Catherine has also received the Uganda Golden Jubilee Medal, the Africa Food Prize, and the GEO Individual Excellence Award.
  2. Implementing crop monitoring systems developed with colleagues at UMD that are utilized and operational in multiple African government ministries.
  3. Training over 1,000 people and partnering with universities on applying Earth observation tools.
  4. Developing approaches for food balance sheets to enable regional food trade.
  5. Advocating for investments in Earth observation that are contextually relevant for African farmers.
  6. Publishing research on how AI/ML can offer new insights from satellite data to benefit smallholder farmers.


Dr. Nakalembe spends a majority of her time in the field, conducting trainings on EO tools and working closely with farmers.
Dr. Nakalembe spends a majority of her time in the field, conducting trainings on EO tools and working closely with farmers.


"Winning the Al-Sumait Prize is an incredible honor that recognizes our years of passionate work dedicated to addressing food insecurity in Africa. This prize tells me that our contextual, collaborative approach to technology development can, and is, making a real difference in people's lives," said Nakalembe. "The Al-Sumait Prize validates our commitment to co-designing solutions with end-users who ultimately are in a position to support smallholder farmers. It shows that grassroots innovation and localized knowledge matter as much as cutting-edge technology. This people-centered mindset will continue guiding our research as we strive to amplify marginalized voices. Through collaborations co-designed with African partners, we can develop localized solutions that empower communities and improve food security across Africa."


You can read the Al-Sumait Prize announcement here.



News Date
Nov 7, 2023