"Never say never" is the phrase proclaimed with a laugh, by Aracely Castro, a Honduran young researcher specialized in agronomy, when asked where her passion and commitment for applied research come from.
Aracely began her journey as a researcher when she completed her undergraduate studies as an agronomist at the Panamerican School of Zamorano. "When I finished my thesis I said to myself: I will never work with basic grains and even less in research, I just want to dedicate myself to something perhaps more lucrative".
A year and a half later, while working as a coordinator of "Zamorano" horticultural greenhouses, she heard about a call for research precisely in the field of basic grains and nitrogen fixation, focusing on small-scale farmers.
For some reason that she still cannot understand, Aracely applied to this opportunity and she was chosen for what would become an eye-opening experience. Her new job involved "dirtying one’s hands in the ground" next to the farmers, whom she began to meet, and thanks to whom she came to understand the importance and the significance that research results have as a contribution to solve their problems.
Getting to know these farmers remains until now her main motivation to keep working in research.
What about the generational change in research?
"It is a process that takes time and involves a lot of commitment, a desire to share, an interest in learning, listening, treating everybody with respect and humility". So far, four researchers have been the mentors who have shared with Aracely the pillars supporting her work as a researcher.
The first was Alfredo Montes, Peruvian, who worked as Head of Horticulture Department. Montes taught her the mysticism and love of work. "He made it very clear that our work knows no weekends, no holidays and not even year-end holidays."
Her second mentor was Juan Carlos Rosas, also Peruvian. From him she learned "the importance of truly believing in the work you do and the value it has for those who benefit from it."
James Beaver was her third mentor and she met him at the University of Puerto Rico. "The clarity and simplicity with which he worked made me see that there is no need for lots of money to do research, what it takes is dedication, planning and organization."
Idupulapati Rao, a CIAT scientist, is her current boss and fourth mentor. Working with him has reaffirmed her sense of justice and generosity.
"Achieving generational change in researchers also implies that young people are given the benefit of the doubt. We know that our leaders have years of experience and we have a long way to go but we need to make mistakes in order to learn".
How did she get to CIAT?
During the first of the seven years she worked at CIAT, she lived in her native Honduras working on handmade seed production systems, ie what is now known as the Quesungual system. After that first year, she moved to Colombia for four years to do a Ph.D. in nutrient cycling at the National University of Colombia.
She has been working as a postdoctoral fellow at the CIAT soil program in Latin America for a year and a half, and in this area she is assigned with great conviction projects focusing on small-scale production systems that are sustainable over time, resilient to drastic challenges that climate change will bring, and productive without reducing, threatening or destroying biodiversity.
"CIAT is a continuous learning scenario which hopefully will be increasingly used by universities, governments and research centers in Latin America, to give young people of this region the opportunity to learn and renew their commitment to the development of their countries and the region".