This week’s Food Hero, Ruth Oniang’o, has spent decades working to improve women’s nutrition, an essential component of improving maternal health and gender equality overall.
According to a brief Oniang’o co-wrote for the United Nations Systems Standing Committee on Nutrition, “poor female nutrition early in life reduces learning potential, increases reproductive and maternal health risks, and lowers productivity. This situation contributes to women’s diminished ability to gain access to other assets later in life and undermines attempts to eliminate gender inequalities.”
Oniang’o, an expert in nutrition policy, has spent her career working to help Kenyan women break out of this cycle. Oniang’o is a leader in academic research and community development in Kenya. Her areas of focus include household food and nutrition security, women’s nutrition, children’s health, and community-level agro-processing and related enterprises. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Washington State University and her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Upon graduating, she became a professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2003, she was nominated to Kenya’s Ninth Parliament and served until 2007. As a parliamentarian, she helped pass a landmark bill increasing criminal consequences for sexual offenders, and also supported the Kenya Biosafety Bill and the Nutritionists and Dietetics Bills.
Before and after her service in Kenya’s Parliament, Oniang’o has had a wide and distinguished career of public service. She is currently the executive director of the Rural Outreach Program, a non-profit development organization that empowers women through agriculture and entrepreneurial projects. She also continues to work as a researcher and consultant for organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), along with serving on numerous boards, including the Poverty Eradication Commission, the Food Security and Sustainable Development Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), among others.
Oniang’o is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Development and has contributed over 50 articles to local and international publications, such as Food and Nutrition Emergencies in East Africa for the International Food Policy Research Institute.