Rural Outreach Africa, Part II

Prof_Ruth_Oniango

Written by Senta Scarborough
Note: This is a follow-up article to their first piece: The Mother of Eco-Friendly Nutrition: Professor Ruth Oniang'o

"The work we do is best when it is shared"

It’s the motto of the mother of eco-friendly nutrition, Professor Ruth Oniang’o.

This Earth Day, or any day on earth, Fierce Hazel believes it’s a message critical to healthy and happy lives on the planet we all call home.

It’s one Professor Ruth has been living by for decades as she’s shared her research and work with countless numbers of students, rural women farmers, teachers and children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much of her work is based on her belief that everyone has the right to adequate food. While a member of the Kenyan parliament (2003-2007) she had adequate food provisions written into the new Constitution of the Republic of Kenya in 2010.

According to the constitution, “every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality, to be clean and safe water in adequate quantities and every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter and health care.”

 

Agriculture field day in western Kenya

Top Photo: Professor Ruth with children on a farm in Ethiopia. 
Above: Agriculture field day in western Kenya with school children. Photos courtesy Rural Outreach Africa

Despite that move forward, few took the law seriously.

“The right in the constitution was something never really executed and no one seems to bother that it existed,” she told Fierce Hazel. But Oniang’o doesn’t give up. About two years ago, Rural Outreach Africa (ROA), the non-profit she founded, received a five year, $500,000 grant from a German NGO to help start that process. The Right to Adequate Food project is based in four countries—Kenya, India, Malawi and Burkina Faso. ROA is leading the Kenyan effort in one area—Vihiga County.

“We are one county out of 47 trying to see how it goes and then share lessons with the rest of Kenya and the world. It’s a global project,” she told Fierce Hazel. 

 

ROA is working to reach everyone in the county to determine whether they understand what the right to adequate food is. They’ve identified vulnerable groups that should be supported by government programs and are working with those government service agencies to ensure they understand and carry out their role. The goal is to sustain food supply for the whole county through different programs. 

“The right to food doesn’t mean you are expecting them to give you food. It is an issue of understanding the environment and people getting food through different means—growing it, purchasing it if they can afford it or sharing with relatives so no one goes hungry. They interview people and work with the media, going to schools, and producing educational materials to make sure everyone understands their rights to adequate food and the available resources,” she said.

Pictures from the Mount Kenya region

Above: A farmer from the Mount Kenya region, for the Two Degrees Up project, to look at the impact of climate change on agriculture. Credit: ©2010CIAT/NeilPalmer 

Professor Ruth, with ROA, also are ensuring that Kenya’s policies and civil service groups make sure to provide non-confrontational services with respect and dignity so people will seek out those resources when needed. 

During the work, they’ve learned many vulnerable groups go hungry without government assistance or programs and don’t take advantage of what’s available. A second lesson is there are agencies equipped to provide services but they have limited resources. They hope to bring these issues to the international stage.

Oniang’o’s work is inspiring new generations of food rights’ advocates like Arizona-based food and agriculture consultant, Lindsay Allison Gaesser.

Gaesser, who holds a M.S. in Agriculture, Food and Environment from Tufts University and a law degree from the University of Oregon, learned in graduate school about Rural Outreach Africa and Dr. Oniang'o in the book, The Fate of Food, by Amanda Little.

Lindsay and Gravel Camp

Above: Lindsay Allison Gaesser and with PhxWmn, the women’s gravel camp she hosts in Patagonia, Arizona

“I learned that ROA focuses on improving agricultural productivity while protecting small farmers. Dr. Oniang'o also established the New Technology Group, a collective of women who meet to discuss modern farming practices—including the use of GMO seeds,” Gaesser told Fierce Hazel. 

Now, Gaesser works as a consultant in the food and agriculture space and is currently working with a global firm to develop a toolkit for dairy farmers who want to transition toward more regenerative practices. 

“To meet food security and sustainability needs, we must increase food consumption while shrinking agriculture’s environmental footprint. On the production side, we must rethink high-input, chemical-intensive agriculture as well as crop use and allocation,” Gaesser said. 

Since 2000, the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula, has experienced the worst droughts on record. As a result, about 12 million people are at risk of hunger due to recurring droughts, Gaesser said. 

Although climate change is threatening food security in the region, it also drives an interest among rural farmers towards knowledge and tools such as GMOs.  Because African farmers live closer to the land in much greater numbers than Americans, they experience climate volatility more drastically and inherently possess a deeper commitment to sustainability, Gaesser said.

AUSAID KENYA

Above: Beth Wanjero (right) talks to an adviser from the sustainable development initiative about points raised in the training manual relating to her farm near Gilgil, Kenya. Beth is part of the Self Help Development Initiative that that teaches farmers how to make their land more productive through protecting their environment and providing sutainable solutions to combatting environmental problems. Photo: Kate Holt / AusAID

“I developed a strong connection to the outdoors through countless trips to the Mountain West for camping, hiking and snowboarding. I think that’s what motivated me to pursue a career path in the environmental and sustainability space—I wanted to do something impactful and protect some of the places I hold dear to my heart,” Gaesser said. 

Gaesser’s love of the outdoors also inspired her passion for cycling. A former college athlete, Gaesser had a running injury which forced her to switch. Gaesser first fell in love with cycling in 2018 while traveling in Italy.

“I rented a Bianchi, explored the Italian Alps, and absorbed all the cycling culture and history the region had to offer. Since then, cycling has become an integral part of my life—from road racing and gravel riding to building a sense of community around bikes and bingeing all the World Tour events,” she said. “The ability to explore new terrain on a bike has just deepened my connection to the outdoors. Simply put, cycling is euphoric.”

In Patagonia, Arizona, Gaesser fell in love with gravel cycling and decided to host a women’s gravel camp through a cycling group she started last year, PhxWmn

“I’m trying to build up the women’s cycling community in Phoenix. The group has grown so much over the past year and everyone is stoked on gravel right now,” she said.

Gaesser tested out her Fierce Hazel Echelon Ride Pouch at the first gravel camp she organized in April which Fierce Hazel helped sponsor. She already has another camp in the works for May.

“I’m always worried about losing valuables or having my phone drenched in sweat, so it’ll be great to have everything protected (and dry!) in one place,” Gaesser said.

Senta Scarborough is an award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated producer. She is the founder of Sentamatic Media focusing primarily on screenwriting, journalism and non-fiction projects. Her work has appeared in Adweek, Into, USA Today, E! News, US Weekly Magazine and Asheville Poetry Review, among others. She is a lifetime member of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist’s Association where she served as a board director for two terms. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert.
Find her on social media @sentascar

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