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  • Narel Paniagua points at a plant sample at the National Herbarium in La Paz, Bolivia, Feb. 19, 2019.

    Narel Paniagua points at a plant sample at the National Herbarium in La Paz, Bolivia, Feb. 19, 2019. | Photo: EFE

Published 21 February 2019

Women from Bangladesh, Gambia, Nepal and Palestine were also recognized for their accomplishments in biological sciences.

Five researchers from developing countries won the 2019 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists, a prize which is focused on life sciences and is granted to women who have made a demonstrable impact on the research environment both at a regional and international level.

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Among the recipients is Narel Paniagua, who works at the Bolivian National Herbarium and received the ethnobotany award for her research on traditional knowledge of plant use by Andean Indigenous peoples and communities.

"The award has an important impact on local research cultures ... enhancing the visibility of their past work and creating new opportunities for the future. The awardees are powerful role models for young women," Jennifer Thomson, president of the Organization of Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), explained.

This year's environmental microbiology awards were granted to Tabassum Mumtaz, from the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission; and Tista Prasai Joshi, from the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology. The epidemiology awards were given to Uduak Okomo, from Gambia's Medical Research Council; and Amira Shaheen, from Palestine's An-Najah University.

"Traditional knowledge is integral. It does not means simply knowing how it is used, but understanding why it is used and how it is chosen," Paniagua said and commented that she worked with Amazon's indigenous peoples such as the Chacobo, Esse Ejja, Yaminawa, Tacanas, and Lecos.

"Bolivia's President Evo Morales meets with scientist Narel Paniagua Zambrana who won the OWSD-Elsevier 2019 award."

Her research on palms, which are called "trees of life" for their usefulness, also allowed her to work with Madagascar and Butan communities, mostly researching on the influence of climate change on plant usages.

During the last eight years, this Bolivian scientist has published about 10 books, which have been delivered to Indigenous communities so that their wisdom will last through time.

Despite the difficulties in doing scientific research in developing countries, Paniagua feels satisfied because when Indigenous peoples find their names and photographs in her books they value their knowledge even more.

"We're really doing science of excellence in Bolivia. I'm not saying it for the prize, but because I've learned from my professors, who are eminences whose work does not receive proper dissemination," she said, and added that women should be encouraged to enter the fields of science by putting aside social prejudices.

Paniagua studied Biology at the San Andres University in La Paz, did a master's degree in Denmark, and a PhD in Madrid.

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