Prem Warrior and N2Africa

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This is a Special Podcaster Edition to thank Prem Warrior for his inspiration, support and friendship over the past five years. It has been a special journey for Nteranya Sangina and myself – and the many others whose lives Prem has touched. We will miss him!

I first met Prem in April 2008 at a convening on biological N2-fixation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. This was the start of an intensive and hugely fruitful interaction. The convening had been organised by Yvonne Pinto with my assistance, and brought together experts on N2-fixation from all over the world. The aim of the convening was to explore what all of the past research on N2-fixation could offer in terms of improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the tropics. Prem had just joined the foundation the week before so N2-fixation has been part of his journey throughout the past five years. A month or so after the convening, Prem contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in leading an initiative to build a grant and this was the start of the process that led to N2Africa. The gestation period was fairly long – with detailed consultations in Wageningen, at the African Association of Biological Nitrogen Fixation (AABNF) meeting in Tunisia in December 2008, leading up to a planning workshop in Mombasa (see photos), proposal submission in July 2008 after Nteranya Sanginga and I had spent some days in Seattle with Prem and others to seek alignment of objectives and finalize the proposal. At the same time I had to opportunity to lead a discussion session with Bill Gates on the wonders of N2-fixation.

Since then we have worked closely together to a common goal – of Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa. Early after the project inception, Prem and I travelled through Mozambique and Zimbabwe together for a whole week – meeting farmers and seeing the first seeds of our work emerging! I remember at the end of the trip Prem saying how it had changed his picture of smallholder agriculture completely. Learning of the challenges faced by smallholders at first hand further strengthened his resolve to keep us on our toes and ensure that we delivered on our promises.
It is hard to summarise our common journey. Prem has always been absolutely open and firm with us, pushing hard and not accepting readily when things are inevitably delayed. Yet at the same time he has always been tremendously supportive of our work, going out of his way to invite us to speak in Seattle to share our experiences with the foundation staff. Always being available on the phone at any time to discuss and advise. His close attention to detail combined with a ‘hands off’ approach in trusting us to execute the project has been much appreciated. We simply run out of superlatives!

N2Africa proposal writing workshop with partners, Mombasa, February 2009

As the first phase of N2Africa is drawing to a successful close, and we are in the throes of writing a proposal for the second phase, we hope that Prem can look back at this period with satisfaction and pleasure. Certainly Prem has become a personal friend for Sanginga and I, always asking after our families and sharing his own stories. We hope sincerely to continue both our professional and personal contacts in the future.

On behalf of all of the wider N2Africa community we express our deep gratitude to Prem. Thank you for believing in us – and you must join us for the closing workshop of N2Africa Phase I at the end of October.

Ken Giller and Nteranya Sanginga