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Henry Benjamin Obeng

Benjamin Obeng333
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Dr. Henry Benjamin Obeng, former Director of the Soil Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Dr Obeng, who is now Chief Consultant of Tropical Agricultural Development Consultancy, located at the Riviera Beach Hotel in Accra, started his career at the then Soil and Land-Use Survey Division of the Department of Agriculture at the Central Agricultural Research Station, Kwadaso, Kumasi.

This was after graduating from the Iowa State College at Ames Iowa in the US with a BSc degree in Agronomy (June 1955) and MSc degree in Soil Fertility (July 1956).

Dr Obeng was the first indigenous Soil scientist to be personally recruited into the Gold Coast Civil Service from his college base in the United States by the first indigenous Director of Recruitment, the late Mr Dei-Anang.

This was in furtherance of the ardent desire of the Leader of Government Business, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, to quickly implement the Africanisation of all professional grades of the civil service.

From 1956 until 1963 when basic agricultural research was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture to the newly established Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Obeng progressed through the professional grades of Soil Survey Officer to Research Officer Principal and Head of the Soil Genesis Survey and Classification Division of the Soil Research Institute.

During this period, he was mostly in the field either actively conducting soil survey, and land classification or inspecting soil survey projects in every region of the country.

This enabled him to compile the first coloured seven basic soil and soil suitability for mechanised and other cultivation practices, erosion hazard, food crops, export crops, import substitution crops and for pasture for livestock (ranching), forestry, game reserve and watershed protection purpose maps of the country, published in 1971 by the Survey Department, which have been included in the Atlas of Ghana.

The maps were in furtherance of the "Operation Feed Yourself and Industries” programme. In search of further knowledge, Dr Obeng proceeded in 1969 to his alma mater, under a US Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to pursue his PhD in Soil Morphology and Classification.

He was awarded the PhD. degree in November 1970. His dissertation was on Characterisation and Classification of Some Ironspan Soils of Ghana. For 12 years (1970-1982), Dr Obeng headed the Soil Research Institute of the CSIR and brought into the institute new direction and vision.

When it comes to scientific publications, Dr Obeng has written extensively since 1956 in various technical reports, local journals and conference papers locally and across the world. In fact, he has over 120 publications to his credit. His area of specialisation are agronomy and, soil and land classification.

Apart from having been a visiting lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in the 1960s and his alma mater in the US (1983-1985), Dr. Obeng has been a member of numerous professional and international societies and committees, notable among them being Soil Science Society of Ghana, International Society of Soil Science.

Association for the Advancement of Agricultural Sciences in Africa, Chairman of the OAU/STRC Panel of Inter-African Scientific Consultants on Soils, Member of the FAO/UNESCO Panel of Experts on the Soil Map of the World Project and Counsellor, Working Group of the International Inter-disciplinary Laterite Reference Collection (IILC) ISRIC, the Netherlands.

Dr Obeng has also been an elected member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, full member of Iowa State Chapter of Sigma XI and the World Food Institute Distinguished Foreign Scholar, Iowa State, University, Ames, Iowa, USA.

One of the latest publication of Dr Obeng is the Ghana Sunflower Grower's Guide in which he promoted not only the extensive cultivation of various sunflower seeds but also the export the much foreign currency earning, vitamin E rich and cholesterol-free oil by-product.

He says:the sunflower seed is in high demand not only in Africa but also the world over. It takes only three months for the sunflower seeds to mature.

According to Dr Obeng, if only 3,000,000 hectares out of the 6,000,000 determined suitable land areas across the country are put under sunflower cultivation, the country will be capable of earning over $5 billion a year through the export of the raw seeds and the oil.

Dr Obeng has passionately advocated wise land-use administration through the urgent establishment of a Land Capability Classification of the enormous natural resources of the country patterned on the Malaysian system, as a result of which that country is better developed economically although she obtained independence from Britain after we did.

Another area of deep concern for Dr. Obeng is the wrong use of good agricultural land areas across the country for other purposes (military exercises and estate development) instead of the private sector using such valuable land for the large-scale cultivation of food crops and non-traditional foreign exchange earning export crops.

Dr Obeng is married with five boys.

Lloyd Evans/Graphic