Esther Kahangi

In 1997, Esther Kahangi shot to international recognition for scientific innovation. The acknowledgement was earned when she led a team of professionals in launching a pilot tissue culture banana production project which aimed to improve banana farming in the country by developing a variety that gave higher yields and matured earlier.

The innovation made a huge impact in the lives of farmers through increased production and better quality, enabling them to access prime markets.

In 2008, Kahangi and her colleagues further improved the variety by making it more resistant to pests, thereby making the tissue culture bananas even more popular and beneficial to farmers.

Today, Kahangi holds the position of Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Production and Extension at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), where she has worked since 1982. She is also a full Professor at the institution in the Department of Horticulture, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

Kahangi attended Weihenstephan University in West Germany, from where she graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a result of her stay in Germany, she speaks German reasonably well. She then returned to Kenya to work as a Research Officer at the National Horticulture Research Station under the Ministry of Agriculture.

She later rose through the ranks to head the Vegetable Seed Production Section, where she was in charge of research in vegetable seed production nationwide. In 1979, she received a Master of Science in Plant Sciences from the University of Nairobi, and in 1994, a PhD in Plant Sciences from the same institution.

Kahangi’s experience in the biotechnology industry includes serving at the Inter University Council of East Africa as the Regional Director of the East African Programme and Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biopolicy (BIO-EARN).

Prior to stepping into her current office at JKUAT, she had worked in various capacities: Director of the Institute for Biotechnology Research, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, and Head of the Department of Horticulture, which she established.

She has also published several papers in line with her research interests, which include genetic engineering of important food crops and the in vitro propagation of horticultural and forest tree crops.

Kahangi has also done consultancy for various government, non-government and international funding agencies on impact assessment, project appraisals and feasibility studies.

As an expert in her field, Kahangi has received several awards as recognition for her efforts and impact as a woman in science. In 1996 Winrock International and Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) recognised her as a role model worthy of being emulated by the girl child, as she was a professional in a field that was traditionally the preserve of men.

In 2002 she was awarded the UNESCO Chair in Biotechnology for her work in the field. In 2003 she received a certificate of merit from the National Council of Women of Kenya for her contributions to the society in science and technology.

She was also accorded Presidential recognition in 2005 when she was awarded the Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS).

Kahangi continues to lobby the Kenyan government for support for science and technology, and especially scientific research. She believes that the key to development lies in research and as such, policies should be put in place to give research the importance it deserves.

She has joined other scientists in urging the government to exempt research-based activities from rigid approval procedures which prevent fast-track delivery of innovative ideas.

In the wake of the successful production of tissue culture bananas in the country, she also calls for the development of reliable standards in research and the training of quality laboratory staff and inspectors.


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