Dr. Catherine Nakalembe, an associate research professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences, was recently awarded Uganda’s Highest Civilian Award, the Golden Jubilee Medal for her efforts to improve food security in Africa. The award was presented to her parents by His Excellency the President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Museveni, at a ceremony in Nakalembe’s hometown, Kampala, on Jan. 26, 2022.
“It’s amazing–I’m overwhelmed and absolutely surprised,” said Nakalembe, a proud Ugandan native who currently serves as the Africa Program Director for NASA Harvest, a food security and agriculture program, and a member of the NASA SERVIR Applied Sciences team, which supports local decision-makers in addressing climate-related challenges. “It’s an honor to be recognized this way.”
As part of the 2017 Ph.D. she received from the University of Maryland, Nakalembe developed the trigger mechanism of the disaster risk financing program in Uganda that supported over 300,000 households in the Karamoja region. In addition, using satellite data that monitors crops and guides agricultural decision-making in countries that are vulnerable to drought and food insecurity, Nakalembe has developed a food security and crop monitoring bulletin for Uganda, as well as Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Eastern Africa.
“The Department is so proud to have Dr. Nakalembe among its faculty and we wholeheartedly congratulate her on this award,” says Tatiana Loboda, Chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences. “As scientists, we all strive to make the world a better place but it is rare to see our individual contributions make a big impact in real time.”
To make her insights actionable, Nakalembe works with national ministries and regional organizations to help their countries develop satellite data-based crop monitoring and early warning systems that forecast future crop failures. These tools enable countries like Uganda to take preventative measures against the potentially devastating consequences of crop failure.
This isn’t the first time that Nakalembe has been recognized for her potentially life-saving work. In 2020, Nakalembe was named the Africa Food Prize Laureate for her dedication to improving the lives of farmers with less than five acres of land; a 2020 UMD Research Excellence Honoree; and was one of 30 women featured in the ESRI book 2020 Women and GIS, Volume 2: Stars of Spatial Science. In 2019, Nakalembe was a recipient of the inaugural GEO Individual Excellence Award.
Nakalembe hopes that her achievement will empower others with similar backgrounds to pursue their goals and realize “that there’s a space for them in [this] field and other fields to excel and be recognized.”
To learn more about Nakalembe’s work, watch this video.