Yelitza in sunflower field

Dr Yelitza Colmenarez – proud to have received the award of ‘Scientist of the Year’ in 2008 given by the Ministry of Agriculture in Barbados

To mark the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science  today (11 February 2019), we speak to some of CABI’s women working in science. In this blog Dr Yelitza Colmenarez, Director CABI Brazil Centre and Regional Coordinator for the Plantwise programme – Latin America and the Caribbean, reveals the motivation and inspiration behind her career in science communications and says her mother and grandfather’s advice has helped her overcome barriers faced as a professional woman.

What motivated you to work in science and development?

I grew up in a rural agricultural community. Taking as an example my grandfather, who was a farmer, I saw from very early in life how difficult it is sometimes for a farmer to maintain good production and profitability. Through the work of applied science in international development projects, it fills me with satisfaction to be able to contribute to helping farmers bring sustainable agricultural technology to their hands in order to strengthen the agricultural production in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thanks to the hard work of the producers we have food at our table and it is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to their benefit.

Which female scientist inspires you and why?

In fact, there are two of them: The particle physicist Mayla Sanchez and the NASA astronaut Dr Ellen Ochoa, as both were able to overcome barriers and make significant accomplishments as a female scientist.


NASA astronaut Dr Ellen Ochoa. Photo courtesy of NASA.

What has been your biggest scientific achievement? 

I look forward to contributing to applied science in agriculture. I am very proud to have received the award of ‘Scientist of the Year’ in 2008 given by the Ministry of Agriculture in Barbados. I am also grateful for the appreciation I have received from farmer’s communities once they are obtaining good results controlling the key pest and problems affecting their crops.

What barriers have you faced as a woman scientist in your work and how have you overcome them?

From the time I decided to be an agricultural engineer I was always told that was not a career for a woman, especially in Venezuela; as the country at that time had oil production as the main activity. In fact, in the agricultural school there were few girls around that time. When I got my first job I remember some of the farmers saying: “Are you the daughter of the Doctor who is coming to help us in agriculture?” They said they were expecting a mature man as the person responsible of the agricultural activities and not a young-Latin woman coming to establish the Integrated Pest Management programme. It was a big pleasure for me working with all of them, as thanks to their strong support, the programme was a successful one. The front door of my laboratory was always full of bags of potatoes, tomatoes and many other crops as a way of them saying “Thank you”. Farmers test you at the field but once you gain their trust they always show you a genuine appreciation. I have always kept my mother and grandfather advice: “Work hard and always try to give your best. No matter what people say, always give your best”. This helped me to overcome the major barriers I have faced as a professional woman.

What does the future hold for you and other women working in science and development?

I hope the world continues recognizing the efforts of women in science and in other areas, and that we can really have a more inclusive world.

What advice would you give to girls and women thinking of pursuing a career in science?

“Work hard and always try to give your best. No matter what people say, always give your best”.

Additional information

Dr Colmenarez is part of a team working to manage invasive Madagascar rubbervine in Brazil.

Find out more about Dr Colmenarez and her projects.




  1. Terry Richards-McIntosh on 7th November 2021 at 9:37 am

    Hello Dr Colmenarez. My name is TerryRichards-McIntosh and I live in Perth, Western Australia. I am writing my life biography and it is summed up by the phrase “work hard, I always did my best”. I am wanting to leave my biography for my children and their children etc. Can I please use the phrase in the title of my book and reference it back to your parents. Please reply. Regards, Terry

    • Yelitza C Colmenarez on 19th November 2021 at 4:44 pm

      Dear Mrs. Richards-McIntosh. Thanks a lot for your message! Congratulations on that very nice idea of leaving your life biography to your children and family! Yes, please, you can use the phrase in the title of your book and reference it back to my parents! It´s a pleasure to link our life stories in this way! It´s great to get in touch with you and I wish you luck with the development of your life biography! Very best regards! Yelitza

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