“If not everyone can come to the University, then let us take the University to them”
Prof. Ruth Oniang’o
ROA, formerly Rural Outreach Program (ROP) was founded to address the alarming results of an Action Research Project dubbed ‘The Mumias Project’ and conducted out of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in 1985 by Professor Ruth Oniang’o. The project sought to determine the food and nutrition situation in sugarcane growing areas in Western Kenya. The results over time revealed a startling prevalence of food insecurity, household poverty, and child malnutrition.
The ‘Mumias Project’ focus area had veered from cultivating nutritious foods to commercial farming of sugarcane. Chemical inputs were intensively promoted to increase harvests while the production of nutrient dense foods went back. With increasingly depleted soils hunger and poverty set in triggering a rampant increase of child malnutrition.
With these findings in hand, Prof. Oniang’o established Rural Outreach Africa (ROA).
The organization started with getting farmers to return to the food systems they knew which protected their soils and provided them with nutritious foods. Bio-inputs were then collected and used to replenish nutrients in the depleted soils. As a result, farmers soon saw their harvests increase again.
ROA’s initial interventions included:
While ROA was initiated to mobilize resources and leverage local capacity in the ‘Mumias Project’ area, the organization, with it’s participatory approach based on human dignity and mutual respect has to date enormously extended its reach into the entire Western region and beyond.
Because of ROA’s long history of success working with rural communities, farmer groups have gained trust in the organization’s objective and are willing to experiment with new methods of problem solving and to evaluate new technologies introduced to them.
This participatory transformation has changed the lives of many rural families for the long term in Kenya.
Two thirds of Africa’s population live and work in rural areas and while the continent’s economic development is steadily growing, rural Africa’s productivity is low and even declining.
Over 60 % of rural people live in extreme poverty and many flee to the cities where they drive unemployment and informal labor.
ROA engages and works with rural communities in Africa to identify and address the conditions that are undermining their development. In a unique participatory process we help communities identify their key challenges as well as sustainable opportunities to alleviate poverty, build resilience and support inclusion to the continents overall growth.
ROA’s main activities cut across the board, ranging from water and sanitation, food production, health, nutrition, economic engagement and lately HIV/AIDS, all aimed at eradication of poverty and restoration of human dignity. In partnership with communities, schools, government, local organizations, international organizations and the private sector, we work towards practical changes at grassroots level with the aim of empowering people.
ROA’s development strategy is built on promoting and mediating responsible Research & Innovation Partnerships between our partner communities in rural Africa and international research institutions or private sector innovators. ROA’s mandate thereby lies in availing research capacity to those who need it most.
The organization is spearheaded by the 2017 Africa Food Prize winner, Prof. Ruth Oniang’o, and is thereby not only deeply involved with international research networks but also well at home in the social and economic conditions that determine the challenges rural Africa is facing today.
Through our multifaceted expertise and regional anchor we do not only play a vital role but assume a key responsibility in promoting and mediating development partnerships while ensuring that the communities we work with are empowered to make the right choices when shaping their future.
While rural development goes hand in hand with increasing investment into structural transformation and income opportunities, our key purpose lies in ensuring that the development impact we drive is not uniquely measured by per acre profits alone but by more long-term and holistic values including rural families’ access to health, education and other social values such as general well-being.
ROA ensures that these values remain key as communities move forward in shaping their future through the choices they make.
The program exists to build on local strengths and mobilizes resources to empower rural communities for the realization of good health, improved family income, environmental protection, and enhanced literacy levels in an equitable, just, sustainable and gender sensitive manner.
Rural Outreach Africa strives to create a healthy rural community able to live and enjoy an active dignified life, and to access and utilize both internal and external resources to the full, and willing to contribute fully to the development of families, communities, and the nation while upholding respect for others.
Prof Oniang’o is the founder and first Executive Director of Rural Outreach Africa. She has influenced the development of Nutrition training, research, development and discourse in much of Africa and has participated in consultations and on committees at the international level whose decisions have shaped global food security and nutrition.
My late mother used to describe me as a child who always pestered her with questions she could not answer. I describe myself as a very curious person and always wanting to do more and to know more. Mathematics was my top subject in school, yet I could not pursue it further as during my time and in my school, girls were not offered Mathematics as an examinable subject at a higher level.