Kenyan scholar wins Africa’s top food prize

Friday September 8 2017

Prof Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o.

Prof Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o is a joint winner of the Africa Food Prize at the African Green Revolution Forum in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MWANGI MUIRURI
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Prof Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o has jointly won the Africa Food Prize at the just concluded African Green Revolution Forum in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

She won the prize alongside Ms MmeMaimouna Coulibali of Mali.

Born on November 9, 1946, Prof Oniang’o made her appearance at the forum as the founder and leader of the Rural Outreach Programme, a community based organisation that supports farmer groups in production and agro-processing at the grassroots.

The scholar beat 643 other outstanding individuals, projects and institutions nominated for the prize.

Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Botswana had the highest number of nominees.

The judges found that her desire to feed the continent at the grassroots stood out. She is also the editor-in-chief and founder of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, which she started in 2001.

She served as lecturer and professor of food science and nutrition at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology from 1990 to 1996.

A holder of a doctorate in food science and nutrition from the University of Nairobi, she inherits the prize from the former president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development Dr Kanayo Nwanze, who was last year’s winner.

Prof Oniang’o carved a niche for herself as a nominated MP in the ninth parliament from January 2003 to December 2007.

Her contributions on the floor of the House mostly touched on food security, family nutrition as well as innovative ideas on boosting agricultural benefits to the society.

A career tutor, she has taught at tertiary level since 1978 and received her first and second degrees from Washington State University, Pullman, USA in 1972 and 1974.

HARNESS THE INTELLECTUAL RESOURCES

“Prof Oniang’o fully deserves the honour today. She is a strong and focused woman who has made Africa proud in that she has influenced the development of nutrition training, research, development discourse both in her home country and in Africa,” outgoing Liberian President Sirleaf Johnson said at the forum.

The judges were unanimous that Prof Oniang’o has participated in consultations at the international level and helped to generate decisions that have shaped global food security and nutrition.

“Her grasp of African food and nutrition issues has enabled her to be Africa’s voice at many international forums such as the World Nutrition Conference in 1992 and the World Food Summit in 1996,” said Johnson.

Prof Oniang’o says her journey this far has been phenomenal.

“This achievement is a culmination of a longtime dedication to a worthy cause. It was consolidated into an action plan in 1993 when following an action research project whose findings catalysed my founding of Rural Outreach Programme,” she says.

She adds that the programme’s main goal was to harness the intellectual resource of the university, connect it with the various capacities within communities to try to improve rural poor people’s livelihoods.

“Charity had of course to start at home, the reason why my most successful sensitisation programmes are to be found in my rural roots of Butere-Mumias and the immediate neighbourhoods,” she says.

Her pet subjects, she concedes, are nutrition and food security, wealth creation, women economic empowerment, environment, health and sanitation including HIV/AIDS, housing, education, and poverty.

At home, she has been awarded a certificate of recognition by the government as well from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Prof Oniang’o currently sits on the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Fertiliser Development Centre, and HarvestPlus Programme Advisory Committee boards.