Thomas R. Odhiambo, the Kenyan scientist who founded an international insect research center renowned for giving African farmers low-cost solutions for pest control, has died. He was 72.
Odhiambo’s physician, G.B.A. Okelo, said he was hospitalized three weeks ago, feeling tired and weak, and then diagnosed with liver cancer. He died Monday.
“Before that, he was perfect. No complaints of any sort,” Okelo said.
The Cambridge-educated entomologist founded what became the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in 1967 at the University of Nairobi, where he taught.
The center was started in response to African farmers’ problems.
During his 25-year tenure as director, the center became an independent research organization where more than 150 African scientists were trained under Odhiambo’s vision of development in Africa through scientific advancement.
The facility “is a unique insect research center,” said the center’s current director general, Hans Herren.
“You won’t find anything else anywhere in the world,” Herren said. “That was to his great credit, to create something like this in Africa where there are a lot of insect-related problems, and these problems .... keep development from happening.”
Odhiambo was also a pioneer in researching how to control insects without using synthetic chemicals, Herren said.
“He recognized that this movement, which began in Europe and America, would be essential to assisting Africa ... by not burdening the environment with chemicals,” Herren said.
Odhiambo also founded the African Academy of Sciences, in 1985. At the University of Nairobi, he was the first professor of entomology, the first head of the entomology department and the first dean of the agriculture school.
In 1987, he and former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf were the first recipients of the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. The prize is given by the Hunger Project, which is based in New York.
He won the Albert Einstein Medal in 1979 and was granted an honorary doctorate of sciences from the University of Oslo in 1986
Odhiambo is survived by two wives and six children.