Dr Adefolakemi Gabriel Ajobiewe is one of the fast-growing scientists in Africa. She hails from Ilaje local government Area of Ondo State, Nigeria. She is from a kingship clan called Etikan under Ropeda ruling house of Ilaje she is therefore referred to as Princess Adefolakemi.

She is a woman with an entrepreneurial mind, one who is not slothful; she is very hardworking and passionate.

After graduating with her BSc in biochemistry, she could not get a job in any of the big industries or organizations in the country, rather than complaining she started a very small scale business of selling fish. With the proceeds, she produced and sold drinking-chocolate powder until she had saved enough money to do her master’s degree in food and industrial microbiology.

Dr Adefolakemi started her educational journey at Adeola Odutola elementary school in Ogun state. Thereafter, she proceeded to Adeola Odutola College and obtained a West Africa School Certificate in 1980. She went ahead to obtain an A Level Certificate at the Ondo State College of Arts and Sciences, Ikare-Akoko in 1983. She briefly attended the Ogun State Polytechnic, Abeokuta in 1984. In furtherance of her academic career, she graduated from the University of Ilorin with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry in 1988. Thereafter, she served with the Lagos State University, Ojo, as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Biochemistry in 1989. After about a 10-year break, she proceeded to obtain my Master of Technology in Microbiology, from the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 2002. She had another short break and went further to obtain the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) Degree in Food and Applied Microbiology from the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 2009.

With her knowledge in biochemistry, Dr Folakemi became interested in what happens during the fermentation of legumes that many Nigerian women use to produce locust bean popularly known as ‘iru’ by the Yorubas, a condiment and thickener for native soups. The natural fermentation of the beans, if uncontrolled, can lead to pathogenic organisms being introduced to the fermented legumes, as is common practice. Iru or dawa dawa (as the condiment is called in many parts of Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin) is made out of African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa), the seeds of large trees. The beans are harvested by collecting those on the ground or in the trees. The pods, first produced after five years, are hard to crack, so women break them open with sticks.

During her research, Dr Folakemi discovered an alternative to locust beans that is more healthy and safer; the jack bean which is also rich in protein and minerals but also has some health disadvantages.  She soon discovered velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens) which are more proteinous than jack beans. Velvet beans grow abundantly in Nigeria and Nigerians had been eating velvet beans without fermentation.

Dr Folakemi soon realized that she needed to educate the women farmers about this fermentation process. At first, they thought she wanted to trick them out of their indigenous knowledge, and they refused to work with her, but when she shared her knowledge about fermenting African locust beans into iru, they realized that she actually knew about fermentation, so they were willing to listen.

She was able to establish the fact that there is a difference between velvet-bean iru and that made from African locust bean although they have similar tastes.

Dr Folakemi now works with three villages and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to provide seed species that are less irritating than those grown in the wild. She will be working with an organism from Thailand that has been tested on African locust beans, which she plans to test on velvet beans. The aim is to achieve a safe level of detoxification, then empower local women to test this.

Dr Adefolakemi Gabriel Ajobiewe is one of the few women in Nigeria to bag the Fellowship of the prestigious African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). She works as a senior lecturer in the department of microbiology at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), Ondo State, Nigeria.

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