Who's Who of Professional Women


Uma Lele

As the president of the International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE), Uma Lele, PhD, leverages her five decades of experience in research, operations, policy analysis, and organizational leadership to oversee the esteemed organization. The IAAE brings together its members, who are professionals from around the globe, to publish the scholarly journal Agricultural Economics and promote the common interests of scientists studying the agricultural and food systems of the world. Before starting her current term, Dr. Lele served as the association’s president from 2018 to 2021. As an honorary life member of the IAAE, in 2023, she established the organization’s Uma Lele Mentor Fellowship Award given to women from developing countries. For more than a decade, she has worked to establish the best research on gender in agriculture.

Dr. Lele is proud of her remarkable success in the traditionally mostly male agricultural industry and is a role model for other women aspiring to make a career in the sector. Highly committed to uplifting others and contributing to opportunities for women, she often provides advice and guidance to rising professionals eager to learn from her vast experience and expertise. To those seeking to emulate her career, Dr. Lele’s advice can be summed up in one word: perseverance. She strongly believes that determination and persistence are the keys to success.

Before her work with the IAAE, Dr. Lele spent more than 30 years as a senior advisor to the World Bank. During her accomplished tenure, she served in the Operations Evaluation Department, now called the Independent Evaluation Group, and led analyses of multiple World Bank programs and initiatives, including the Forest Strategy and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Throughout her career, Dr. Lele has actively contributed to her industry at large. She is a fellow of both the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences of India and the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. After serving the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, India, as an independent scholar and development economist, she shared her knowledge with the University of Florida as a graduate research professor from 1991 to 1995 and as the director of international studies from 1992 to 1993.

In preparation for her decades-spanning career in policy analysis and agricultural economics, Dr. Lele completed a Bachelor of Arts through joint study at Fergusson College and Savitribai Phule Pune University in India, in 1960. She went on to attend Cornell University in New York, obtaining a Master of Science in agricultural economics in 1963. Moreover, in 1965, at age 24, Dr. Lele graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in agricultural economics, becoming the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in the subject. She has been recognized for her esteemed career and devotion to academic and professional excellence with an additional honorary doctorate awarded to her by Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2023.

Dr. Lele is an enthusiastic and prolific contributor and author in her field. Among her published works, she wrote the book “Food for All: International Organizations and the Transformation of Agriculture” with Oxford University Press in 2021, “Patterns of Structural Transformation and Agricultural Productivity Growth” published by Hind Law House for the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in 2018, and “Managing a Global Resource: Challenges of Forest Conservation and Development” with Transaction Publishers in 2002. Dr. Lele’s works span the full breadth of her career, as she authored “Food Grain Marketing in India: Private Performance and Public Policy” in 1973 and “The Design of Rural Development: Lessons from Africa” in 1976. Additionally, she was featured in the Marquis Who’s Who Millennium Magazine.

Honoring her achievements, Dr. Lele has been the recipient of numerous awards. In 2018, Cornell University recognized her with the Clifton R. Wharton Jr. Emerging Markets Award from the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. The same year, the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Lele also was named an Honorary Fellow of the African Association of Agricultural Economists in 2019.

Dr. Lele says she owes most of her success to the support and encouragement she received from her father, who was responsible for shaping much of her academic journey in her early life. He inspired her to apply to American universities and pursue a doctorate. Looking ahead, she plans to continue her mission of extending help to people in need, especially individuals suffering from hunger. She is especially proud of her book, “Food for All: International Organizations and the Transformation of Agriculture,” a powerful testimony of her deep commitment to alleviating food insecurity and starvation worldwide. Whenever Dr. Lele steps aside as the IAAE president in the future, she will have left an enduring legacy as an effective professional, devoted agricultural economist, and powerful leader.


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