A tribute to Jean Ndikumana, a ‘gentle giant’ in African livestock research for development

Jean Ndikumana at a 2010 stakeholders meeting of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

The board, directors and staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) mourn the passing of a former colleague and lifelong friend—Jean Ndikumana, a plant and forage breeder by discipline from the Republic of Burundi who became an exceptional leader in pan-African agricultural research for development. Dr Ndikumana died on 5 December 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Colleagues and friends of Jean from ILRI and well beyond have been deeply touched by this untimely loss, including Jean’s friend and colleague Ed Rege, who contributed much of the bibliographical detail here and to whom ILRI offers particular thanks.

Born in 1953, Dr Ndikumana received a MSc (1977) and PhD (1985) in plant and forage breeding from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. After completing his doctoral program with first-class honours, Ndikumana returned to Africa, where he held a succession of leadership positions in agricultural development, including serving as a United Nations volunteer conducting remote sensing for rangeland management in 15 West Africa countries, director general of the Burundi National Agricultural Research Institute (ISABU), and a member of several boards of directors of public-sector organizations in Burundi.

In 1992, Jean joined the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), a predecessor of ILRI, as a senior scientist and coordinator of the African Feed Resources Network (AFRNET). (ILCA merged with the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases [ILRAD] in 1994 to become ILRI.) AFRNET was a pan-African collaborative research network for developing livestock feed resources and strengthening the capacity of Africa’s national agricultural research systems (NARS) to conduct research on feed resources. This network was run collaboratively by ILRI and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

Jean Ndikumana’s passion for connecting national and international researchers through networking was to stay with him through the rest of his career.

From 1996 to 2009, Ndikumana served as ILRI’s coordinator of the ASARECA Animal Agriculture Research Network (A-AARNET) and leader of ILRI’s collaborative work with the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD). In this work, Ndikumana supported national scientists and their partners to plan, design and implement collaborative market and value chain programs undertaking livestock research.

From 2009 to 2015, Ndikumana joined ASARECA, first as program manager of ASARECA’s Livestock and Fisheries Program and then as leader of ASARECA’s Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition Research theme.

Ndikumana’s ILCA and ILRI colleague Ed Rege highlighted the special networking skills Dr Ndikumana brought to ILRI like this.

‘As a scientist and research leader, Dr Ndikumana was very successful in mobilizing resources to support the networks and programs he led. Dr Ndikumana’s networking abilities, his diplomacy, unassuming character and focus on results earned him many additional responsibilities. For example, between 1992 to 1997 he was one of three ILRI representatives to the World Bank-managed Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR), which evolved into the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) as we know it today. In addition to his role in the formation of FARA, he also participated in processes that led to the establishment of CORAF/WECARD in West Africa and ASARECA in Eastern and Central Africa.

‘From 2003 to 2008, Jean also represented ILRI in several high-level meeting of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the African Union—especially the New Partnership for Africa’s Development / Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (NEPAD/CAADP)—and ministerial meetings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The loss of Jean is a major blow to the entire African agricultural research and development community. He was a true professional who embodied the virtues of authentic leadership. He was unassuming, easy going and yet results-focused, friendly and yet no-nonsense, and knowledgeable and confident but not arrogant. He had a passion for mentorship and counseling—of young and old alike—whenever he thought he could help!

Ed Rege, former director of ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme and current chief executive officer of ECI-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya

What follow are other tributes to Jean from ILRI’s large and extended family.

‘I’m sorry that I cannot be present in person to pay tribute to Jean Ndikumana, a friend and colleague, and a stalwart champion of African agriculture who will be dearly missed not only by his many professional colleagues throughout the continent and beyond, but also by those who he mentored, encouraged and touched with his warm smile. To the family and friends gathered today, I send my heartfelt condolences and those of the entire ILRI family.’

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya

‘I will always remember Jean as the “ambassador of livestock development”. With his huge network of friends in the African national agricultural research systems, his great language skills, his unforgettable smile and his experience of working for ILCA and later ILRI, he ably found ways to make collaborative projects happen in spite of many challenges. My thoughts are with Jean’s family. May his soul rest in peace.’

Carlos Seré, former director general of ILRI, associate vice-president for Strategy and Knowledge Management at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and senior advisor on Strategic Partnerships and Global Initiatives at Bioversity International, Germany

‘Jean always fought for and supported the NARS. He kept CGIAR centres honest in their missions’ support to the NARS and to build capacity. I first met Jean when he was director general of the Burundi National Agricultural Research Institute (ISABU), then at ILRI when he was network coordinator and then at ASARECA when I sat on its board representing CGIAR. Jean never deviated in his message—the need to ensure NARS were strong and involved with advancing Africa’s agriculture research agenda.’

Bruce Scott, former director of partnerships at ILRI, deputy director general of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and regional director of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and current senior advisor to the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), Nairobi, Kenya

‘I am deeply saddened by the passing of Jean Ndikumana. I had not seen him since 2003, when I joined the World Bank, but was fortunate to see him twice this year on the occasion of two important gatherings—in August in Kigali at the Africa Food Security Leadership Dialogue and in Accra in September at the African Green Revolution Forum. Jean was full of life then and we made plans to intensify our collaboration. He was a highly regarded agricultural researcher and manager in Africa, with his opinion highly sought and valued in very different fora. At the Kigali high-level Leadership Dialogue, where Jean represented the government of Burundi, he had a large impact on the deliberations in making the case for investing in science for food security. Jean was a particularly effective coordinator of Africa’s livestock networks when he worked at ILRI. As coordinator of the African Feed Resources Network (AFRNET) and later the ASARECA Animal Agriculture Research Network (A-AARNET), Jean played key roles in building the capacity of many African scientists, in connecting African scientists to ILRI and CGIAR and in training thousands of animal scientists in Africa. We will dearly miss him. I send my sincere condolences to his wife, Anne, and their four children.’

Simeon Ehui, former director of ILRI’s Livestock Policy Program and current regional director for the World Bank’s Sustainable Development, Africa, Washington, DC

‘One of my many memories of Jean Ndikumana is the occasion when the president of Burundi called to offer him the position of minister of agriculture. I was excited for him because I knew that was a challenge he would relish. However, in the end, he chose to stay at ILCA, not just because of the value he attached to AFRNET’s research to the lives of smallholder livestock producers, not just because he did not want to disappoint his colleagues in AFRNET, but as much as anything because he had accepted the challenge of trying to bridge the gap that existed at that time between scientists in CGIAR and Africa’s national agricultural research systems (NARS). He would often ruefully admit that he had underestimated how difficult it would be, even to bring the networks he was coordinating into the mainstream of the host institution’s own programs, let alone promote their collaborations with the NARS. It is greatly to his credit that he persisted and his exemplary commitment to collaboration is an invaluable enduring asset for ILRI and CGIAR as a whole. That same commitment of his made him a much-valued collaborator at ASARECA.’

Ralph von Kaufmann, former director for external relations at ILRI and coordinator of the UniBRAIN Facility of FARA and currently an associate consultant of the African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN) and member of the Board of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS), UK

‘We have lost one of our giants and a great professional. Dr Ndikumana will be missed but his legacy will certainly continue. We pray that the Lord comfort the family and us friends during this difficult moment. May his soul rest in peace.’

Appolinaire Djikeng, former director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub and current director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, UK

‘I am still lost for words, recalling my last recent conversation with Jean. Jean was a down-to-earth, dedicated scientist but with deep understanding of the principles of subsidiarity, and one who strongly believed in regional networks as a way of delivering impactful livestock research and sustainable development to people in Africa. We will sadly miss his enormous experience and pragmatism and thank him for always making difficult situations look simpler than they really were! May God rest his soul in eternal peace.’

Okeyo Mwai, deputy leader of ILRI’s Livestock Genetics Team, Nairobi, Kenya

‘The death of Dr Jean Ndikumana is very sad news for the agriculture for development community, a former livestock and fisheries programme manager at ASARECA. May his soul rest in peace.’

Jonas Mugabe, lead specialist for Research Management and Leadership Cluster and manager of the Platform for Africa-Europe Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD) at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Accra, Ghana

If you would like to leave a comment in the comment box below, please do so in the next week and we will forward this tribute and all the comments next Friday, 20 Dec, to Jean’s wife Anne.

Please also see this tribute paid to Jean Ndikumana by ASARECA: Africa mourns the death of AR4D guru, Dr. Jean Ndikumana, 10 Dec 2019.

The following condolences were sent to the PAEPARD D-group (Platform for European-African Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development Phase II) and are reprinted here by request.

> Dear all:

INIDA extends its condolences to ASARECA his family.

May his soul rest in peace.


Ângela M.P.B.V. Moreno

Agronóma, Ph.D em Engenharia dos Biossistemas

MAA – Ministério da Agricultura e Ambiente

INIDA-Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário

Ilha de Santiago, Cabo Verde

> Jonas:

Whilst I have never met Dr Jean Ndikumana, the CV you attached shows how big

his commitment was to Agriculture in Africa.

Please pass on our deepest condolences to his colleagues and family on the

loss of one of Africa’s true sons.


Ed Hill

Innovational Consulting Events


> Dear Jonas,

I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of my friend, mentor, and

colleague, Jean Ndikumana. I cannot respond adequately because I am still

in shock, but I can say that I totally agree that “*Dr. Ndikumana will

surely be missed, but his contribution to the growth and development of

agriculture in Africa will never be forgotten*’; certainly not by me.

Please pass my condolences to his family.

Prayers and best wishes,

Ralph von Kaufmann


> Dear Dr Jonas,

Please help extend our deepest condolences to Dr Jean’s family and colleagues over this unquantifiable loss.

We shall continue to miss his great contributions to the sector.


> Dear All

May God have his soul, we are God and he will return. My sincere condolences to his family, and to his great family ASARECA, and all Africa.

Dr Amor Chermiti


> Dear All:

I felt unfortunate by losing such resource and respectful person and I would like to extend my condolencesto ASARECA and his family.

Mekbib Hilegebrile

CARE Ethiopia| Senior Nutrition Advisor

Feed the Future-Livelihood for Resilience Activity

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

> Dear colleagues,

It’s very saddening to learn of the sudden death of Dr Jean Ndikumana whom I collaborated a lot with during most of my 12 years as the Director of Programs at CORAF/WECARD.

He left too early, and will be thoroughly missed by all those in AR4D in Africa and beyond.

May his soul rest in peace.

Marcel Nwalozie

> Very sad to hear the sad news!

Though not directly known to me but his CV says it all.

Please accept my apologies to his dear family.

Dr Julius Kilungo

SEKU, Kenya