Strengthening the research agenda for agriculture

By Pauline Atim
I had the opportunity to attend the Center for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) meeting at the #RUFORUM@10 when it called a number of stakeholders including university deans, vice-chancellors, policy makers, lecturers and students to discuss strategies to strengthen the research-training-farmer continuum and the youth agenda in the SADC region. The event was overall interesting and intellectually stimulating as I heard different standpoints and suggestions concerning agricultural research for development (AR4D).

The first key lesson from the meeting is that ‘Innovation is the lifeline of agriculture’. The world is constantly facing changes, which call for agriculture to keep changing as well. Global issues such as changing consumer preferences and market trends, climate change and HIV/AIDS; including contextual issues such as soil nutrient status and rainfall patterns require farmers, large and small to keep adjusting their agricultural practices. This requires an innovative approach to agriculture by all stakeholders. Researchers need to come up with better farming practices; expansionists need to develop more inclusive and real-time communication methods; suppliers need to provide more relevant inputs; buyers as well, need to find creative ways of buying produce without having to go to the farm gate. Universities also need to find better approaches of engaging society in research and outreach.
In keeping with innovation within the agricultural sector, CCARDESA, during the meeting, gave an opportunity to the participants to discuss the operational-isation of potential innovative training programs in agriculture. Some of the programs discussed included, agricultural research for development, monitoring and evaluation, agribusiness, research leadership and management and animal production. During the discussions, it was noted that farmers are normally the ‘missing group’ when it comes to the development and implementation of the agricultural research and development agenda. However, farmers are, in essence, the core of agricultural research since they are the end-users of the research products. Innovative participatory research methods are thus critical if the research agenda is to deliver tangible outputs.
The second key lesson is that ‘Agriculture should be interesting and engaging’. It was noted that agricultural programs in universities lose most of its students to other disciplines because it is associated with hard labour and boredom. The integration of ICT can however attract young people to the discipline. Thus, the universities need to develop programs that include ICT learning modules.
 ‘Agriculture should be gender-inclusive’. This is the third key lesson during the meeting. Women form about 70% of agricultural labour. However, they are the most constrained in as far as market access and technology development is concerned. It is therefore imperative that women should be involved and consulted when developing technologies. They should be trained in agricultural marketing and value addition.
All in all, agriculture has to be innovative, interesting and inclusive if the smallholder farmer is to realize higher income and increased food security.
The research agenda for agriculture falls wanting of these three if it is to register progress and results. It is my hope that if university deans, research institutions, extension providers, private sector, and all the other stakeholders at RUFORUM@10 happen to remember to pick anything at all at the conference, it should be that their agricultural efforts should be innovative, interesting and inclusive.

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