2009 Borlaug LEAP Fellow, Dr. Eusebius Mukhwana is passionate about creating change for the better. As a veterinarian, he expressed his passion through caring for animals. As a professor, he transferred that passion to others through teaching. And now, as he pursues government work, he is taking that passion for change to the policy-makers themselves as the Deputy Commission Secretary in charge of Planning, Research and Development at the Commission for University Education (CUE) in Kenya. CUE is charged with the regulation and accreditation of the country’s higher education programs, thereby assuring the quality of higher education around the country. Mukhwana is happy to be at the forefront of higher educational change, which he hopes will positively affect Kenya and surrounding countries in the future, and feels he is well placed to see real change become a reality in his country.
Early in his childhood, Mukhwana decided he wanted to be a veterinarian after his father purchased ten Fresian dairy cows for his farm in Kenya. Right away, there were issues, as the cows began dying of a mysterious, as yet unidentified, disease. Compounding the problem, their veterinarian took several days to arrive to their remote village, often making it there after the animals died. The loss to the family each time a cow died (“My mother cried for days on end”) was profound enough to make a lasting impression on young Mukhwana. He made up his mind to become a veterinarian so he could help both his family and others avoid the same struggles.
After receiving his Veterinary Science degree in 1992, Mukhwana soon set his sights on something even more important to him than animal health: soil health. In 1997, he started SACRED, a community-based organization, to help support local farmers. SACRED focused on three goals, “improving soil fertility, improving the marketing of agricultural produce, and improving the delivery of new agricultural technologies to farmers”, and he spent the next ten years working closely with farmers to achieve those goals.
In 2007, Mukhwana decided that earning a doctorate would strengthen his skills and knowledge. When offered a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, Mukhwana says “my choice of topic was clear: sustainability and economics of alternative soil improvement technologies.” However, Mukhwana soon found that US farming is much different than African farming: “They had larger farms, farm operations were mostly mechanized, and they had a much better connection with the markets […]. The challenge for me, then, was how to apply some of the techniques they were using to […] African smallholder farms.”
Mukhwana credits the Norman E. Borlaug LEAP fellowship with helping him tackle those issues by allowing him to work with both a US and a CGIAR mentor. While it was a struggle (“like climbing Mt. Everest on foot!”), he was able to use the training he received to start finding ways of improving the lives of these smallholder farmers, many of whom had trouble earning back even their initial investments. After seeing the inequities and hardships these farmers faced, he came to the conclusion that the “Band-aid” solutions being offered, however cutting-edge they were, weren’t really producing adequate results. He says it was “like giving aspirin for a bacterial infection: it reduces the fever, so for a short while the patient feels better, but the infection continues to eat him or her away […].” He decided his next step would be politics and policy-making.
Initially discouraged by the rampant “lies, bribery, clannism, and patronage” Mukhwana saw in the political arena, he eventually realized he could still effect change through teaching and took position as Senior Lecturer in Soil Science at Embu University in Kenya. It was through teaching that he made his way back into politics when, in 2014, he was appointed as Deputy Commission Secretary at CUE. He is now involved in developing national policies that will guide the research goals and outreach programs at institutions of higher learning and, in the end, may help the farmers he has been trying to assist since the beginning.
Dr. Mukhwana is part of the team planning the SASA 4th Annual International Conference and Status Conference on University Education in Kenya.