Mary Oyiela Abukutsa Onyango- African Scientist

Research

Mary Abukutsa is a dynamic result-oriented, strategic thinker and transformational leader with a personal mission statement that guides her in touching lives through the provision of excellent service with humility and integrity. She is an internationally recognized scholar, scientist, educator, mentor, leader, and a prolific researcher. She is globally recognized for her pioneering research work on African indigenous vegetables. She is currently a full professor of Horticulture at JKUAT, Kenya.

She has a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi (UON) and an MSc (UON) plus a Ph.D. in Agronomy from the University of London. As of January 2021, she has published 68 papers. She speaks Dholuo, Kisii, English, Swahili, and Luhya.

Research Gate

Mary Abukutsa-Onyango is a distinguished scientist that has conducted pioneering research in African indigenous vegetables (AIVs).  Her work has had a tremendous impact on the utilization of indigenous vegetables in Africa and has led to her receipt of numerous, awards including Presidential, Africa Union awards, and Edinburgh medals. Her work has inspired consumers, producers, students, young researchers, and influenced governments to consider the importance of indigenous vegetables for nutrition, health, and income generation.  Her passion, coupled with her careful scientific multi-disciplinary research, have repositioned indigenous vegetables from a poor man’s crop to internationally recognized super vegetables. She holds a BSc (Agriculture), MSc (Agronomy), and Ph.D. (vegetable crop physiology and nutrition). She currently serves as a Professor of Horticulture and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research, Production, and Extension) at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. In 2016, she released 9 varieties of AIVs and in 2017 she was nominated as a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and in 2017 she was nominated by the Next Einstein Forum 2018, in Kenya as one of the 20 scientists representing the Faces of Science in Kenya during the Africa Science week

New Einstein Forum

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.

MAFS: Not Secure

Mary Oyiela Abukutsa-Onyango (born 20 February 1959) is a humanitarian and agriculturalscientist from Kenya who specializes in olericulture, agronomy, plantphysiology. Abukutsa-Onyango is a professor of horticulture at JomoKenyattaUniversityofAgricultureand Technology whose work focuses on African indigenous food crops.Abukutsa Onyango has studied how African indigenous vegetables can be used to combat malnutrition in Africa while maintaining a secure form of revenue even during more challenging weather and climate.

She attended Ematsuli Primary School from 1966 to 1972 in Emuhya, Kenya. She later attended Bunyore Girls High School from 1973 to 1976 in Wekhomo, Kenya and Ng’iyaGirlsHighSchool in 1977 in Ng’iya, Kenya. She obtained a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture in 1983 from the UniversityofNairobi. She received her Masters of Science in Agriculture in 1988 from the University of Nairobi. Finally, she received her Doctor of Philosophy in Olericulture, Plant Physiology and Nutrition in 1995 from Wye College, University of London.

Abukutsa-Onyango’s interest and appreciation of indigenous African vegetables was sparked by an allergy to animal proteins she had as a child. This led her to pursue a career in agriculture as she wanted to unravel the potential hidden in African indigenous vegetables. She has been involved in research of African indigenous vegetables since 1990 on an academic level and a practical level with farmers. She surveyed Kenya’s indigenous plants to investigate the viability of seeds used by farmers. Her research has changed and she focuses on the nutritional properties of vegetables. Her research has shown that amaranth greens, spider plant, and African nightshade contain substantial amounts of protein and iron and are rich in calcium, folate, and vitamins A,C, and E. The cooking of these vegetables as studied by Abukutsa-Onyango could help combat malnutrition in Africa as they provide necessary nutrients and proteins to those who cannot afford meat.

Abukutsa-Onyango is a member of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) team, a program created to increase the skilled women demographic supporting Africa’s women farmers. With this profile, Abukutsa-Onyango has been able to influence Kenya’s policy-makers. For example, the Health Ministry has advised hospitals to use African indigenous vegetables in HIV patients’ diets.

Abukutsa-Onyango has published over 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles and now teaches as a professor of horticulture at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, Kenya.

AAS

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JKUAT

WikiPedia

Mary is a dynamic, result oriented Experienced and Internationally recognized Leader, Scholar, Scientist, Mentor and a Prolific researcher whose vision is to be a personality of Global Excellence in Serving Human kind to the Glory and Honour of GOD. Her core values include Excellence, Love, Joy, Integrity, Competence, Humility, and Commitment. She holds a PhD in Horticultural Sciences and MSc in Agronomy. Has over twenty years of University Teaching and Research in her area of specialization. Served as a team leader of over 20 multidisciplinary research projects on Agrobiodiversity. Has about 100 publications and involved in research for development and outreach activities with farmers in Kenya and beyond. Won several research grants and awards of recognition for her research for development:1st position CTA woman scientist, 2009, AU 1st prize woman scientist for Earth and Live Sciences in 2010. She is Involved in University curricula Development, serves as an external examiner for universities and reviews for several high profile scientific journals. She is a determined promoter of Agrobiodiversity and has actively advocated for its Strategic Repositioning in the Horticulture sector for food security, income and sustainable development in Africa.Mary is also involved in Conservation efforts of indigenous food and medicinal plants by developing Maseno University Botanic garden since 2000 .Mary successfully served in senior leadership positions in the university system in Kenya since 1999 as Dean and Director. She served as Coordinator of JKUAT Resource mobilization. Served as Key note speaker in several international scientific fora like FARA Science week in July 2010 in Burkina Faso.
Specialties: Highly knowledgeable on African indigenous vegetables. Effective communication of scientific materials to the end users. Research for development, University curricula development and has exemplary writing, mentoring, fund raising and negotiation skills 

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