Growing up in urban Uganda, Ronnie Kaddu spent a lot of leisure time visiting local farms and dissecting insects.
It wasn’t all just for fun.
As the son of a parasitologist who was studying how communicable diseases spread in rural villages, Ronnie’s father often enlisted Ronnie and his siblings as assistants, bringing them along to the villages where he worked to help set up insect traps and gather information on the way diseases were spreading through animals. His mother, on the other hand, was passionate about helping her children understand that food did not actually come from a supermarket. On the weekends, she would take Ronnie and his siblings out to tour farms, and she engaged them in growing vegetables in their own garden.
“With that background, I developed a sort of bias for public health,” Ronnie said. “I always knew I wanted to work with people, and my mom was very instrumental in helping me to understand the importance of food to health.”
After attending university, Ronnie began working on church-sponsored community health initiatives in war-torn Northern Uganda. Through this role, he saw very concretely the link between food security and health, specifically as it affected those living with HIV/AIDs. While the church provided funding for medication, Ronnie found his patients wouldn’t take it.
“They would say thanks for the medicine, but they weren’t taking the pills because the pills were prescribed to be taken after food. But there was no food, because there was a war,” he said. “The World Food Programme would bring maize and beans and soya to people, but it was all rationed. Food was a huge problem for people.”
In his role, Ronnie began engaging with community members to grow small crops of fruits and vegetables so that his patients would have extra nutrition. But he knew these efforts were a drop in the bucket when considering the needs of people across the country.
He returned to university to get his doctorate in anesthesiology, but he always maintained an interest in public health and, particularly, working with communities. Following time spent studying abroad in Europe, Ronnie returned to Northern Uganda to pursue roles with NGOs. The war had ended, and Ronnie began working with partners like the UNDP to help local people get funding and start agribusinesses focused on forestry – growing and selling seedlings as a way to replace the flora lost in the country during the war. Most recently, he has worked with marginalized populations in Kenya to understand the sociocultural factors that influence their participation in health programs. Throughout his career and his research, Ronnie said he keeps coming back to food as a common link.
“I am interested in the factors that influence the behaviors of people, particularly when they’re seeking help. Why do people do the things that they do? What drives the way people think and influences the way they behave?” he said. “There is no magic bullet. But in my quest to help people seek better health, I have time and again been faced with the issue of food.”
At the World Food Bank, Ronnie’s role is to keep nutrition at the forefront of our work by helping farmers maintain a diversity of crops, including vegetables.
“My role is to ensure that as people develop good farming practices from their partnerships with the World Food Bank that they don’t forget the basic elements of food security in regards to nutrition,” he said. “Because we need a healthy environment and nutritious foods to have good health status.”
To learn more about Ronnie, visit our Staff Page.