KU Leuven has awarded IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga with the prestigious Doctor Honoris Causa. VLIR-UOS (The Flemish Interuniversity Council–University Development Cooperation) hosted the ceremony in Brussels, Belgium on 15 May as part of celebrations marking its twentieth anniversary.
History was made as this was the first time five recipients received honorary doctorates from the five Flemish universities on the same day. The awards were given in recognition of the outstanding contributions of the recipients to the field of university cooperation for development.
In his welcome address, chair of VLIR-UOS and University of Antwerp Rector, Prof Herman Van Goethem, applauded the model of cooperation between the universities who are collaborating for impact on society. As outlined in the VLIR-UOS slogan, “Sharing minds, changing lives”, he noted that the institutions are committed, not to the competition but, only to collaboration.
“With these honorary degrees and the joint ceremony, we show the world that the Flemish universities are engaged universities taking up their responsibilities for the global challenges that the world is confronted with,” stated Prof Van Goethem.
“The academic authorities of all Flemish universities highly value this university cooperation for development,” he continued.
Following a brief video testimonial, the Rector of each institution presented the recipients with their awards.
In a pre-recorded message, IITA emeritus board member, Prof Roel Merckx, recounted positive memories from his decades-long collaboration with Dr Sanginga and his consistent attention to capacity building. He said, “Sanginga has a very special mission towards young academics in Africa. He really sees the importance of having the best brains in agronomical research in Africa, so he goes to great lengths to stimulate young people…”
In his presentation speech, KU Leuven Rector Prof Luc Sels noted that Dr Sanginga has been working to fight hunger and improve the quality of life for smallholder farmers and their communities in sub-Saharan Africa. He said, “Dr Sanginga’s work demonstrates that agricultural transformation can only be successful when research institutions pool capacity and pool resources. Under Dr Sanginga’s leadership, IITA has become a highly successful international research organization.”
He also stated KU Leuven’s mission to continue to strengthen the academic capacity of researchers, departments, and institutions in Africa—a mission in which they consider Dr Sanginga and IITA as strong partners.
Prof Sels continued, “We want to help create the conditions that will ultimately allow African institutions to continue capacity building by themselves, in a sustainable way, and throughout the entire region.”
He also noted that “Dr Sanginga’s research and development approaches are an inspiration for implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our university is exploring ways to systematically engage with these goals and to strengthen our commitment to realize them.”
Upon receiving the award, DG Sanginga used the opportunity to highlight three of IITA’s success stories, achieved despite challenges to food and nutrition security faced by the region, such as land degradation and soil fertility.
One of the projects he highlighted was the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA), which helped to foster “peace through science” as well as bring about poverty alleviation in the Great Lakes Region of Burundi, DR Congo, and Rwanda.
He also spoke of IITA’s role in influencing policy with regard to the use of fertilizer in African crop production at a time when the continent was at a crossroads.
Finally, Dr Sanginga recounted the inspiration for and the beginnings of the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) program, which has overseen the growth of youth participation in multiple value chains in African agriculture.
Dr Sanginga ended by dedicating the award to the young and upcoming scientists, hoping that this honour would serve as a motivation for them to continue to combat famine in Africa through better soil fertility management.
The other recipients of the honorary degrees are Dr Clarice Garcia Borges Demétrio from Brazil, who received her honorary degree from Hasselt University (UHasselt), while Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) gave the award to Dr José Ramón Saborido Loidi from Cuba. Dr Leymah Roberta Gbowee from Liberia received the Doctor Honoris Causa from Ghent University and Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfun from DR Congo received his from the University of Antwerp.
Throwback highlights from the day: https://bit.ly/2W3gzRF