Honorable Professor Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o, PhD, SS (Silver Star), DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) [SS = Silver Star, DSM = Distinguished Service Medal - presidential awards], was a member of Kenya’s ninth parliament from January 2003 to December 2007. Prof Oniang’o took leave of absence from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology, Nairobi, where she served as Professor of Food Science and Nutrition and founder Director of Graduate Studies. Ruth Oniang’o became the first Nutrition professor in Kenya and probably the first woman Nutrition professor in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. She has taught at Tertiary level since 1978 and received her 1st and 2nd degrees from Washington State University, Pullman, USA in 1972 and 1974, respectively. She received her PhD from the University of Nairobi, Kenya in 1983.
She has influenced the development of Nutrition training, research, development discourse both locally in Kenya and in much of Africa. She 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 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 continues to edit the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) which she started in 2001 in order to provide an avenue for publishing scholarly works by African scholars and others with and interest in similar issues related food, agriculture, nutrition and development and to serve as a capacity building effort for budding academics from across the globe. Some of these young scholars serve as interns in her NGO 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.
Prof Oniang’o is the founder and first Executive Director of Rural Outreach Africa, a non-profit community development organization that she established in 1993 following an action research project whose findings catalyzed the founding of Rural Outreach Program (ROP). ROP’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. Through ROP, 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 empowerment, environment, health and sanitation including HIV/AIDS, housing, education, and poverty.
ROP’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 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.
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. Internationally, she won Woman of the Year 2000 award granted by the American Biographical Institute. Additional awards she has won include: International Union of Nutritional Sciences Fellow in 2006, International Union of Food Science and Technology Fellow in 2006, and Fellow of the World Academy of Science and Art, in 2006. Ruth has in 2007 been successfully nominated Corresponding Member of the Medical and Natural Sciences Section of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences in Belgium.
In Kenya she has served on a number of committees and commissions including the Poverty Eradication Commission, the National Food Policy Committee and the World Food Summit and International Conference on Nutrition Committee, National Standards Board, Early Childhood Development Committee, and Taskforce on Laws affecting Women and Children.
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. Ruth Oniang’o has authored numerous publications many of which have been presented in local, regional and international forums. As an experienced trainer, a researcher and a development philanthropist, Professor Oniang’o has pledged to continue championing the cause of the youth, peasant farmers, the poor and the women during her 5 year tenure in Parliament. She is always at the forefront of debate when it comes to matters of healthcare, agricultural research, food and nutrition security.
Ruth is married with five children and seven grand children. In her political position, Professor Oniang’o is a trainer with 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. 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 Dieticians, 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 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.