Ron DePauw has always been motivated by the power of agriculture to change people’s lives. During his distinguished career as a wheat breeder, he has produced over 200 scientific manuscripts, developed wheat cultivars, which have accounted for about 50 percent of Canadian wheat production, and has been inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame. He has mentored many female researchers, including three Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Awardees: Arti Singh (2013), Samia Berraies (2013), and Silvia Barcellos Rosa (2011).
When DePauw was awarded the 2016 WIT Mentor Award for his dedication to gender parity in agricultural science, he decided to donate the $3,000 cash prize to FINCA International, an organization dedicated to providing women with microloans. FINCA International provides subsidiaries to over one and half million people in 23 countries across Africa, Eurasia, the Middle East and South Asia, and Latin America.
DePauw and his spouse Else Marie chose FINCA in part because the organization “recognizes that women are disproportionately impacted by poverty, and are less likely to be formally banked than men.” They are firm believers in the FINCA mission: “When women are empowered to work and create their own businesses—through access to finance, education, markets, land titles and courts—the talents of half of the world’s population are unleashed and economies grow.” Ron also mentioned the important connection between women and microloans saying, “women primarily re-invest in their family.”
During the early 1970s, DePauw worked in East Africa and became acutely aware of the undervalued role women play in supporting their families. He remarked that the women “operated small holdings and marketed their produce in markets, sometimes walking significant distances to market fresh produce or trade goods. Their income was used to pay for school fees and other opportunities for their family.”
DePauw’s research took him to the Njoro Research Centre, now the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) in Njoro, Kenya, where he worked as a wheat breeder, training professionals as well as technicians and laborers. He observed that women were vastly underrepresented in the male dominated workplace.
DePauw’s work in Africa granted him a unique perspective, and his devotion to gender parity led him and his wife, Else Marie, whom he met in Kenya, to contribute over 350 microloans, first in 2004, beginning with the organization Kiva. Of those microloans, 99 percent have benefitted women, 33 percent have gone to food production, 20 percent to retail ventures, and 15 percent to agriculture. DePauw recalled one specific loan to Alice, a smallholder farmer in the Tinga village in the Nyamira region of Kenya. He said, “She never managed to complete primary school but was very determined to give the best life possible for her children. She started as a subsistence farmer on a 2-acre farm. She grows vegetables and now has a cow from which she sells about 10 liters of milk each day. She was able to use the income to support her family.”
A terrific scientist as well as a humanitarian, DePauw has mentored some of the brightest minds in the agricultural sciences. One of his junior colleagues Nancy Ames, remembered words of advice he gave to her: “Take the high road, it will always be the right path.” Ames went on to say, “Dr. DePauw has taken the high road throughout his career serving as a role model to myself and other women and men in science, demonstrating that ethics and truth are the basis of scientific methodology.”
“The BGRI would like to acknowledge Ron for actively supporting microloans to women in developing countries and believing that agriculture can change people’s lives for the better,” said Jeanie Borlaug, chair of the BGRI, who instituted the WIT Mentor award back in 2011. “We are honored by his philanthropic example.”