I am proud to be following in the footsteps of Dr Borlaug as SAA Board Chairperson – footsteps which, admittedly, are impossible to fill. He was a great figure of our time – perhaps the greatest in world agricultural history. It is a humbling position I find myself in, but one which reaches to the core of what I would rather do in this world – make my own contribution towards eliminating hunger on the African continent. The sight of struggling women, carrying malnourished and starving children is one we must all work to eliminate.
Now at SAA, we mark the 25th anniversary of the organization he helped to found, with a major restructuring of its vision, mission and goals. Most of our staff members are now African by birth and nearly 40% are female. There is a new sense of purpose, direction and enthusiasm; there is passion in our work and one can feel it.
Our reconstruction reflects the changing face of African agriculture. Fundamentally, we are taking on a value chain approach, from production to markets and consumption. This means we have to help national agricultural extension systems transform themselves from focusing primarily on crop productivity to providing farmers and rural communities with training and advisory services along the value chain. Further, we need to change the way agricultural extension is taught in Africa’s colleges and universities. We must encourage the development of pluralistic systems of agricultural extension with the support of the private sector, the NGO community and farmer-based associations. Capacity building and collaboration with relevant and interested organizations will guide most of our work.
We also have a new task – to reach out to the 70 to 80% of smallholder farmers who are rarely touched by extension. And here I particularly mean women farmers who provide most of the work in the field, have to raise their families, sometimes in the most abject of circumstances, and have to play major roles in community development.
All this must be supported by greater investment in agricultural research, rural infrastructure and market-based institutions.
These are the new challenges for us – and ones that we are now better equipped to confront.
Hon. Prof. Ruth K. Oniang’o, PhD
Founder, Rural Outreach Program (ROP)
Editor-in-Chief, African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND)
Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, TUFTS University, USA