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Photo of Mary Abukutsa-Onyango

Mary Abukutsa-Onyango

Professor of Horticulture, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

Kenya

What most impressed the professional colleagues who nominated this role model?

Mary Abukutsa- Onyango is a distinguished scientist.  She has conducted pioneering research in African indigenous vegetables.  Her work has had a tremendous impact on the utilization of indigenous vegetables in Kenya and has led to her receipt of numerous, well-deserved awards including the IMPRESSA and Africa Union awards.   Her work has inspired students and influenced government to consider the importance of indigenous vegetables.  Her passion, coupled with her careful scientific research, have repositioned African indigenous vegetables from a poor man’s crop to a commercialized enterprise that can be found in supermarkets today.

What motivated you to pursue a career in agriculture?

  • Primarily, I was inspired by my peasant mother who brought me up. She used to feed us on indigenous vegetables.
  • Being allergic to animal products (and hence being vegetarian from childhood) compelled me to venture into agriculture, to domesticate some of the wild vegetables we grew up eating and do more research on them.
  • I had a positive mindset towards studying agriculture as a subject despite many people discouraging me.  I had the passion to further inquire, especially about indigenous vegetables, the subject on which I conducted my PhD research.  
  • The values inculcated in me as a young woman, by my father, were important.  He taught me to be resilient and not to give up easily.

How can agricultural education institutions more effectively prepare African students for successful agribusiness careers? 

  • Participatory research and curriculum development are important in order to cater for the views and needs of different stakeholders.
  • Technologies and curriculum development should be designed in such a way that they attract today’s youth.  In other words, the curricula should embrace the youths.
  • The subject matter taught should be broadened to include farm production, nutrition, and health and income generation.
  • Encourage thinking outside the box.  There should be flexibility and diversification in the programs undertaken by students.
  • There should be diversified production in Africa.  University farms should play the role of model farms. 
  • Policies that support agricultural training should be friendly to stakeholders and unique to local situations. 

Career highlights

  • Member of the expert panel for Africa-wide Women and Young Professionals in Science competition, sponsored by CTA and FARA.
  • Convener of the Professors’ Forum at JKUAT.
  • Professor of Horticulture, JKUAT, Kenya.
  •  Director, School of Graduate Studies and Dean Faculty of Science, Maseno University.
  • Agricultural Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya. 

Educational background

  • Primary school:
    • Ematsuli Primary School.
  • Secondary school:
    • Bunyore Girls High School.
    • Ng’iya Girls High School.                
  • University:

    •  B.Sc. Agriculture, University of Nairobi.
    •  M.Sc. Agronomy, University of Nairobi.
    • Ph.D.  Horticulture (Olericulture, Plant Physiology & Nutrition), Wye College, University of London, UK.