By Nkima Cianki
A candid conversation with Kenya’s agriculture top technocrat, Prof. Hamadi Iddi Boga
In an exclusive interview at his office, PanAfrican Agriculture engaged the professor of microbiology and microbial ecology in a candid discussion to unravel the man tasked with providing solutions to the country’s food security agenda.
Born and raised in the coastal County of Kwale, and a first-born in a family of eight children, Professor Hamadi attended both regular schooling and madrasa in his early years, eventually studying his way into university. Hamadi discloses that his first love was medicine, a desire borne from his interaction with his father who was a public health technician.
He however failed to make the cut off for the course and was admitted at undergraduate for a course in botany and zoology, eventually specializing at postgraduate level in microbiology, an area he became fond of due to its fundamental relevance to ecosystems.
“I don’t regret not having done medicine and everything that I became is because of the opportunities that biology has brought me”, Prof confidently states.
His skills have played a huge role in nurturing and mentoring numerous philosopgy (PhD) and Masters of Science (MSc) students, who today work in institutions of high repute in Europe, the Gulf region and America.
The scientist- turned-policy maker certainly left a mark in the academic sphere, where he rose through several ranks, including holding the position of chair of the botany department and dean of the faculty of science at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)
The former don, who is also tasked with progressing agriculture through research has succeeded in reviving the national agriculture research systems policy, opening up opportunities for engagement and growth.
He however cautions on the scattered budgetary allocations in various agencies such as National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), National Research Fund (NRF), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), that threaten to reverse gains.
Worth noting is that agricultural research in Kenya operates on a budgetary research allocation that is less than half of the recommended 2 percent, and heavy supplementation comes from development partners such as the EU, USAID, UN agencies, AGRA and BMGF.
Boga however remains cautiously optimistic that his efforts to rally more funding from treasury will bear fruit. The agriculture ministry is also vibrant with several programs targeting women and youth, borne from policy reforms that target financial inclusion, access to land ownership, and changing attitudes towards agriculture by youth.
He singles out programs such as the Enable-youth program supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB), exchange programs in partnership with Israel, and the revival of 4K clubs, all triggered by the ministry’s youth and agribusiness strategy.
With a rich resume and a lot to offer the Country, PanAfrican Agriculture was curious to find out the PS’s plans after 2022, when his current tenure as PS ends. “I am torn between going back to teach at the university, serving at regional or global level or seeking an elective post in my native Kwale county,” the 54 years old Prof. Boga confesses, divulging that he still finds time to supervise Philosophy Degree (PhD) students while serving as a PS.
He is however clear that his next call of duty will mark his complete cycle of giving service to the public as he awaits his lifelong retirement. Seemingly troubled, the PS sadly acknowledges that his home County of Kwale has a poor score card on most food security indicators, evidenced by the high levels of youth unemployment and one of the highest poverty levels in the country.
“Tourism in Kwale County has not benefited the people. During the yester-years when it was booming, majority of the youth-focused on tourism and abandoned agriculture. Unfortunately when the tourism sector dropped due to radicalization and insecurity, it could no longer serve as a sustainable life line for the people of Kwale and other coastal regions”.
“The cashew industry is almost dead yet most of us were educated through cashew farming. The same is evident in the coconut value chain.”
He believes that with good leadership, Kwale County can be steered towards realizing its untapped agricultural potential, by exploring promising value chains such as horticulture, blue economy and fisheries, and tapping into the livestock sector in the drier regions.
The PS is not shy to consider politics and views it as a critical career whereby with good professionals on board, can champion good development plans as opposed to bad politics and poor choices that breed poverty and hopelessness. With all the feathers sitting unfettered on his hat, he is quick to acknowledge key persons that have served as motivation at different phases of his career. His father remains one of those, for instilling the ethos of hard work.
He appreciates Professor Mabel Imbuga, former Vice Chancellor at JKUAT who was instrumental in his academic achievements. He also admires Dr Agnes Kalibata for stimulating global conversations in food systems, and looks forward to doing the same.
One would imagine that PS Boga is almost saturated with responsibilities, until he opens up to his call for community service. In addition to being a patron of several community development initiatives, he chairs and is a member of numerous high school boards in the coastal region.
On a broader scale, he serves in several boards that target agricultural transformation in the African continent. These include the African Agricultural technology Foundation (AATF), ICIPE and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). The dedicated husband and father of three teenage daughters attended Mvindeni Primary School in Diani, Kwale County where he sat his certificate of primary education (CPE) and Voi Secondary School for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).
Prof. Boga was then admitted to Kenyatta High School, Taita where he sat his Kenya Advanced Certificate of Education (KACE), paving way for his admission to Kenyatta University for a bachelor’s degree in Botany and Zoology.
He proceeded to the undertake his MSc in Microbiology at Kenyatta University, and undertook his doctorate at the renowned Universität Konstanz, Germany, in Microbiology/ Microbial Ecology.
The technocrat is optimistic that from his experience in leadership that spans many years and diverse engagements, he has amassed enough experience to serve in any capacity that is presented to him. He is certainly set to remain in the public space for many years to come.