How Did Professor Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o Transform Agribusiness and Food Security to Earn a Distinguished Service Award in 2014?

The International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA), headquartered in Washington, D.C., serves as a bridge connecting the agribusiness sector with researchers, educators, governments, consumer groups, and NGOs. This collaboration aims to enhance the global food and agribusiness system. With a membership exceeding 700 individuals from over 50 countries, IFAMA promotes global networking and cooperation. Central to IFAMA's mission lies a commitment to recognizing individuals whose pioneering contributions have made significant, transformational impacts on food industry. The prestigious IFAMA Distinguished Service Award stands as a tribute to such dedication, honouring leaders who have not only achieved excellence in their respective fields but have also made significant contributions to advancing the goals of IFAMA.

During the 2014 Agribusiness & Food World Forum held in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 18, more than 500 international delegates gathered to explore the theme "People Feed the World" from various perspectives. The forum facilitated interactive discussions and presentations, engaging students, academics, government, and business leaders, all focusing on the human talent and potential required to achieve global nutritional security. The event, jointly organized by IFAMA and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), aimed to present Africa as a region of unlimited opportunities, where agribusiness can drive vigorous economic growth and advancement. At this event, Professor Ruth Khasaya Oniang'o, the first nutrition professor in Kenya and arguably in all of sub-Saharan Africa, was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award. The award has not only highlighted her extensive contributions to nutrition education and agricultural research and development throughout Africa but also as a paragon of service to IFAMA's objective of fostering meaningful progress throughout the food and agribusiness sectors.

As an esteemed leader in food sector, she has spearheaded initiatives that empower smallholder farmers, advance gender inclusivity, and involve youth in agriculture. Through her ground-breaking work, Professor Oniang'o has transformed the lives of smallholder farmers across Africa, unlocking their potential to become catalysts for change in their communities. By advocating for sustainable practices and providing access to modern technologies, financial support, and market linkages, she has elevated smallholder farmers from mere subsistence to thriving entrepreneurship, thereby contributing to food security and economic prosperity on a grassroots level.

Furthermore, her unwavering commitment to gender equality has been instrumental in amplifying the voices and contributions of women in agriculture. By breaking down systemic barriers and providing women with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed, she has empowered them to become leaders, innovators, and drivers of change within the agricultural sector, fostering a more inclusive and equitable food system for all. She has championed initiatives to improve women's access to financial services, including microfinance programs tailored to their needs, enabling them to invest in their farms and improve their livelihoods. She has promoted gender-sensitive agricultural extension programs, ensuring that women have access to the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to adopt improved farming practices. She has also challenged gender-based discrimination and cultural norms, advocating for women's representation and leadership in agricultural organizations and policy-making bodies.

Similarly, she has been a fervent supporter of youth involvement in agriculture, acknowledging the crucial role that young individuals have in determining the future of food systems. Through mentorship, education, and entrepreneurship programs, she has inspired a new generation of agribusiness leaders, equipping them with the skills and resources they need to harness their potential and drive innovation in the agricultural sector.

IFAMA President Thad Simons commended Professor Oniang’o’s contributions, stating, “Professor Oniang’o’s firm grasp of African food and nutrition issues has allowed her to serve as Africa’s voice at many international forums and as an advisor to many. Her leadership in the creation and continued oversight of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development has provided an avenue for the publishing of scholarly research and served as a capacity builder for budding academics across the globe. She embodies all of the Continent’s vast promise.”

Stephen Hayes, CCA’s President and CEO, highlighted the broad impact of Professor Oniang’o’s work, noting, “Kenya, the African Continent, and, indeed, the world celebrates Ruth Oniang’o. Beyond agriculture, she has worked to further wealth creation, the economic empowerment of women, health and sanitation, and eradicate environment and poverty challenges. It is no surprise that she has received national medals from her home country of Kenya, as well as recognition worldwide. As part of our World Forum, CCA and IFAMA are delighted to add our applause and gratitude.”

In honouring Professor Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o, the 2014 Agribusiness & Food World Forum recognizes her broader impact on economic empowerment and development across Africa. She embodies the highest ideals of excellence in practice, research, teaching, and service that IFAMA seeks to recognize and cultivate.