05/01/2018 13:10 SAST | Updated 05/01/2018 13:10 SAST

Remember Calestous Juma: Africa's Brave Sustainability Pioneer

The illustrious Kenyan environmentalist is being honoured around the world.

Geoff Caddick - PA Images via Getty Images
African development expert Professor Calestous Juma of Harvard University holds a waterproof $100 [~R1,250] computer, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the aim of making computers available to all African children.

Following his recent passing, illustrious Kenyan environmentalist Celestous Juma is being honoured around the world for his extraordinary contribution to the development of sustainable African agriculture.

64-year-old Juma died on December 15 at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after a long battle with cancer. The U.S. town was close to his teaching post at Harvard, where he was a professor of international development at the Kennedy School and directed the Agricultural Innovation in Africa project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

"Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. "So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change."

Juma's passion for the environment emerged as a child, when he became aware of the destruction wrought by the introduction of Nile perch to Lake Victoria, and the deforestation of native forests by the British government in power at the time.

Importantly, he founded the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) in Nairobi in 1988, and wrote the groundbreaking 1989 book "The Gene Hunters", which explored the positive biological impact of genetic modification on indigenous species -- a book that, according to the New York Times, "helped pave the way for the Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nations treaty signed by more than 150 governments in 1992 to protect the survival of diverse species and ecosystems".

His life and work are being celebrated around the world. Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said, "No words can match the achievements of this great man, who enjoyed an exemplary career and served with humility and generosity."

Watch one of Professor Juma's final lectures below: