Dr. Catherine Nakalembe, NASA Harvest Eastern Africa Lead and Geographical Sciences Assistant Research Professor, is one of the inaugural winners of the 2019 GEO Individual Excellence Awards. This award recognizes scientists who have dedicated their valuable time, resources, and energy towards highly impactful missions with palpable results. Award nomination criteria, per the GEO Programme Board, include:
- being instrumental in generating energy within a community that has led to significant progress or achievements
- using creative and innovative approaches to achieve collaboration
- overcoming administrative, political, institutional or structural barriers to advance the goals of a community
- engaging or mentoring youth
- advancing a diverse and inclusive GEO.
Dr. Nakalembe no doubt excels at all of these criteria and was selected from a competitive pool of over 20 highly qualified individuals. Her passion and dedication to increased food security throughout Eastern African countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda is undeniable. She is a proud Ugandan native, earning her BSc. at Makerere University in Environmental Science, her MSc. in Geography and Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, and her Ph.D. in Geographical Science at the University of Maryland. Her doctoral research highlighted the impacts of drought on land use and on the lives of North Eastern Ugandans and formed the basis of the remote sensing component of the Disaster Risk Financing Project that has supported over 75,000 households (370,000 people) in the region since initial scaleup in 2017 and saving the Uganda government resources that would otherwise go towards emergency assistance. She revolutionized and repurposed remote sensing by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from use in agricultural monitoring to surveying refugee settlements and landslide mapping in Uganda. In addition to her current role with NASA Harvest, her widespread scope of duties include her contributions as a PI on the NASA SERVIR Applied Sciences Team (AST), the incoming Thematic Lead on Food Security and Agriculture for the AST, and serving as the Program Assistant for the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program. Beyond being an exemplary scientist and food security activist, Dr. Nakalembe is also a "Nalongo" - a proud mother of young twins.
Watch Dr. Nakalembe’s feature in the Ugandan news (NTV Uganda) for her presentation of the award to the Ugandan Prime Minister, the Ministers of Disaster Preparedness, and the permanent secretary during the government steering committee meeting on November 14th, 2019.
Dr. Nakalembe organizes and leads trainings on remote sensing tools and data, works with national ministries on their agriculture decision-making processes, and heads initiatives to support proactive efforts to prevent potentially disastrous impacts of crop failure. She has collaborated with Eastern African government leaders, ag extension agents, regional farmers, and groups such as the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) and the Regional Centre For Mapping Resource For Development (RCMRD) to further the use of Earth observation (EO) in driving positive change for food security in some of the most vulnerable regions in the world. She is an advocate for building trust and local capacity through collaboration and data-sharing, enabling ministry leaders to feel confident in proactively dedicating resources towards food security rather than retroactively addressing the negative impacts of major food events. Due in part to her tireless efforts, policies and programs have been put in place that directly impact the lives of farmers and those most defenceless against the impacts of food failure. She also leads NASA Harvest activities in Mali working with National Agencies in Mali including the Système d'Alerte Précoce (SAP) in the food security commission under the Relief to Resilience (R2R) project partnering with Lutheran World Relief.