Award honours key figure in African science

Thomas Odhiambo helped found several African science institutions Copyright: icipe

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[NAIROBI] An award for outstanding achievements by African scientists has been created in memory of Thomas Odhiambo, the Kenyan scientist who helped found the African Academy of Sciences and TWAS (The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World).

Odhiambo, who died in 2003, is regarded as a visionary whose desire for home-grown scientific solutions saw him initiate and nurture many projects at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya.

The award was created this year by icipe to honour scientists who excel and make outstanding pan-African contributions in the science of entomology.

Announcing the first winner of the award in Nairobi, Kenya, last month (3 January) icipe‘s director general Christian Borgemeister said Odhiambo helped establish icipe to foster development in Africa.

He was also founding editor of the International Journal of Tropical Insect Science and helped establish the Kenya National Academy of Sciences.

"He was adamant that Africans should get world class [science] training in Africa," said Borgemeister, adding that Odhiambo had sought to put African science at the forefront of development and did all the negotiating with the government of Kenya for buying the land on which icipe is built.

Ahmed Hassanali, a senior scientist at Kenya’s Kenyatta University who was involved in several of Odhiambo’s projects, described him as keen to develop local methods to help people — especially small-scale farmers in Africa — increase their productivity.

"He helped in developing the patent policy in icipe, which is important as it safeguards intellectual property. This shows just how much he was dedicated to the development of research in Africa," Hassanali told SciDev.Net.

The first winner of the prize, Zeyaur Khan, spearheaded the ‘push-pull’ strategy that tackles the three main impediments to cereal production in Sub-Saharan Africa: poor soil fertility, stem borers and striga weeds. It involves intercropping cereals like maize with a repellent plant such as desmodium, and planting attractive plants such as napier grass as a border crop to keep the pests out.

"It is a great honour for me to receive this award," said Khan. "I feel proud to be associated with icipe for the last 25 years working for smallholder poor farmers in Africa."

"Agricultural scientists in Africa should make sure that research provides practical solutions for the real problems of poor farmers by promoting food security and sustainable livelihoods," he said.

Borgemeister said the award demonstrates an increasing recognition of African research.

"African nations have woken up and improved their research," he said.