Not many women in the world get to experience the beauty of the fifth-largest continent — Antarctica. But those who land there are mostly the ones that excel in science and technology.
Dr Humera Iqbal is the second Pakistani woman to be selected for the Antarctic research trip under the Homeward Bound programme in 2019-2020 — Dr Tayyaba Zafar being the first three years ago.
Dr Iqbal is also the country’s first livestock researcher. Her passion to improve animals’ lives encouraged her to study livestock nutrition.
With Dr Iqbal, around 100 women from 33 different countries and 25 numerous disciplines were selected for the one-year programme. It was the largest all-women expedition to the continent which promoted women in science, diplomacy and climate change. Even the staff and trainers were women. During the 11 months, participants attend online sessions on various subjects, including leadership, strategy and visibility and science.
Dr Iqbal was born in a landed family of Faisalabad. Her brothers wanted one of their sisters to study at an agriculture university. “I was passionate about studying food and nutrition, so I got interested. One more reason was that there aren’t many women in the livestock sector, so I thought why not break into this field? Some women who have studied the subject, work for some time and then quit their jobs because of gender discrimination and zero encouragement,” she shared.
Humera got a job offer as soon as she completed her MSc. Later, she worked for the government but after some time felt she was doing nothing but wasting her precious time. “Because of gender discrimination and other challenges, I resigned and joined the private sector, and since then I got many opportunities to work on important international projects,” she informed further. At present, Dr Iqbal is managing the Dairy Beef Project in collaboration with the Australian Center for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pakistan and the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Talking about her experience in Antarctica, Dr Iqbal said on earth, we have hundreds of colours, but there I could only see three colours. “When I looked at the sky, it was blue and when I looked into the ocean water, it was grey and when I looked in the surrounding, it was all white. Although I had seen these colours on earth, I cannot express the effect and magic they had on my mind. I cannot find the beauty of those colours on the planet we live on. It was just matchless.”
The programme fellows also carried out a bird survey to figure out the kinds of birds on the continent. They found twelve kinds. At least six types of seals species, including water seals, also existed there. “Seeing humpback and orca whales closely was a wonderful experience as well. But it’s really sad that their lives are affected because of our activities,” she lamented, adding that there is thus a need to address the challenges of climate change immediately.
COVID-19 and livestock sector
Dr Iqbal cares immensely about the country’s livestock sector and farmers’ prosperity. That is why she launched “SheLeadsVet” initiative under which she holds seminars, webinars and training for students to highlight farming issues for sustainable development. “My focus is food and farm animals in which I have carried out extensive research. Pakistani farmers need to know that they can earn more profit if they feed animals better quality food as it helps them stay healthy.”
Since Dr Iqbal returned from her trip in early 2020 to the frozen continent, because of her keen interest in livestock and climate change, she has continued to work with partners she met at the programme.
She shared that during COVID-19, all advisory services for smallholder farmers were restricted and they faced challenges in production and marketing. There was a need to understand the immediate impact of the pandemic on food and agriculture. Global crises such as climate change or pandemics should have solutions for sustainable farming systems for food security and economic development. “Under my “SheLeadsVet” initiative, I conduct a series of online webinars to support farmers, farm advissrs and policymakers and put practicable recommendations in front of them by sharing diverse experiences from different countries.”