Honorable Professor Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o, PhD, SS (Silver Star), DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) has taught at Tertiary level since 1978 and received her 1st and 2nd degrees from Washington State University, Pullman, USA in 1972 and 1974, and her PhD from the University of Nairobi, Kenya in 1983.
From 1978-1990 Professor Oniang’o was a distinguished academic at Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya becoming the first Nutrition professor in Kenya and probably the first woman Nutrition professor in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. She has influenced the development of Nutrition training, research, development and discourse in much of Africa and has participated in consultations and on committees at the international level whose decisions have shaped global food security and nutrition.
Her grasp of African food and Nutrition issues often 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.
Prof Oniang’o has served as external examiner for a number of Universities in Africa and in the process assisted them to develop or revise their Food Science and Nutrition curricula. These include: Moi, Egerton, Maseno and Kenyatta Universities in Kenya; Sokoine University in Tanzania; University of Namibia; University of Zimbabwe and Bunda University College in Malawi. Locally, she has served on: Egerton University Council, Board of Private Sector Governance Trust, Institute of Public Policy Analysis and Research and Kenya Bureau of Standards.
She has attended and given plenary addresses to International Congresses of the IUNS (International Union of Nutritional Sciences), IUFoST (International Union of Food Science and Technology) and Crop Science meetings.
Prof Oniang’o established Rural Outreach Africa (ROA) in 1993 following the deplorable findings of an action research project she spearheaded at the Jomo Kenyatta University for Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT). ROA’s main goal is to harness the intellectual resource of the university, connect it with the various capacities within the communities to improve rural poor people’s livelihoods. Through ROA, Ruth Oniang’o has literally transformed the lives of many rural poor families in the Butere-Mumias district of western Kenya and the environs. Her innovative and top-notch leveraged interventions that cut across the board have addressed a variety of issues including: nutrition and food security, wealth creation, women economic engagement, environment, health and sanitation including HIV/AIDS, housing, education, and poverty.
ROA’s work has been recognized by the Kenya Government by winning a certificate of recognition and by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, through Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Prof Oniang’o won the Africa Food Prize in 2017 for her relentless efforts to feed the continent at grassroot levels.
The Africa Food Prize, formerly known as the Yara Prize recognizes those individuals whose efforts help to improve food security in Africa and reduce poverty through agricultural production. Prof. Oniang’o was honoured alongside Mme Maïmouna Sidibe Coulibaly from Mali at the African Green Revolution Forum that took place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
She made her appearance at the forum to beat 643 other outstanding individuals, projects and institutions nominated for the prize. Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Botswana had the highest number of nominees.
Prof Oniang’o inherited the prize from the former president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development Dr Kanayo Nwanze.
Prof. Ruth Oniang’o was nominated a member of Kenya’s ninth parliament from January 2003 to December 2007. During her time as a member of parliament, 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.
As a member of parliament, she found herself in a better position to address a whole spectrum of issues that affect the common person from a policy and governance standpoint. For example, she has supported a Bill to professionalize Nutritionists and Dietitians, has brought a Bill to address drought and famine and has supported the exploitation of modern technologies including biotechnology by African scientists and policy makers, and has talked passionately about unaffordable healthcare for the majority of Kenyans.
She is keen to see a green revolution for Africa that can enable Africa move from a position of beggar of food to exporter of food!! She is a strong believer in restoring Africa’s dignity by ensuring a Green Revolution for Africa. All these efforts have been carried out from her academic and NGO work, using minimal financial resources.
In 2007 she was awarded a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by the Kenya Coalition for Action in Nutrition (KCAN) for recognition of her contributions to the advancement of nutrition and development initiatives in Kenya.
She was also appointed to presidential commissions in Kenya on the review of laws affecting women and children (1995), financing of university education (1995), poverty eradication (1999-2002) and Egerton University Council (1993-2002).
She was awarded a certificate of recognition by the government as well from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for her achievements as the 2017 Africa Food Prize winner.
For her outstanding service to her country in community development through action research and rural development activities, Prof. Oniang’o has been awarded two national medals: the Silver Star medal in 1995 and the Distinguished Service Medal in 1998 after her name was proposed and submitted to the Presidential Committee by the communities she works with.
She has served on a number of committees and commissions including the Poverty Eradication Commission, the National Food Policy Committee, the World Food Summit and International Conference on Nutrition Committee, the National Standards Board, the Early Childhood Development Committee, and the Taskforce on Laws affecting Women and Children.
Prof. Oniang’o continues to edit the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) which she started in 2001 in order to provide a channel for scholarly works with an interest in issues related to food, agriculture, nutrition and development in Africa.
AJFAND today is the premier peer-reviewed Journal on agriculture in Africa and also serves as a key capacity building platform for budding academics from across the globe. Some of the young AJFAND scholars serve as interns at Rural Outreach Africa (ROA) and get to participate in action research, attend relevant meetings, learn the art of proposal writing, critical thinking and editing of manuscripts. Many refine their English grammar skills during this time and their proficiency in internet use.
Internationally, Prof. Onyiang’o won the Woman of the Year 2000 award granted by the American Biographical Institute. Additionally she was awarded International Union of Nutritional Sciences Fellow, International Union of Food Science and Technology Fellow and Fellow of the World Academy of Science and Art in 2006.
In 2007, Prof. Onyinag’o was successfully nominated Corresponding Member of the Medical and Natural Sciences Section of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences in Belgium.
Prof. Oniang’o has worked as a consultant/expert for organizations such as FAO, ICRISAT, WHO, the Gates Foundation and a number of international and local NGOs and universities. Often her views are sought on Africa in general and Kenya/ East Africa in particular. She currently sits on the following Boards/Committees: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Fertilizer Development Center, and HarvestPlus Program Advisory Committee.
Professor Oniang’o is also a trainer with the International Republican Institute [IRI] and a consultant with the Club of Madrid, a Club of about 74 democratically elected past heads of State and government.
ROA works with rural communities in Africa to secure their integration to the continent’s positive growth and development. Our Development Strategy is built on promoting and mediating responsible Research & Innovation Partnerships. We ensure that our innovation & development impacts are driven by holistic values and transformation.
My late mother used to describe me as a child who always pestered her with questions she could not answer. I describe myself as a very curious person and always wanting to do more and to know more. Mathematics was my top subject in school, yet I could not pursue it further as during my time and in my school, girls were not offered Mathematics as an examinable subject at a higher level.