Written by: Moses Osiru – Deputy Executive Secretary, (RUFORUM)
Nearly two months after the conclusion of RUFORUM’s Fourth Biennial Conference, held in Maputo, Mozambique, this is an opportune time for reflection. Intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), African Heads of State declared 2014 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa. Given that CAADP itself originated from the adoption by African Head of States and Governments of the Maputo declaration on agricultural and food security, it was only fitting that the conference was held in the Mozambiquan capital.
Held every two years, the conference is a key event in the RUFORUM calendar, bringing together key university actors, including students, and profiling the outputs and activities of African universities to policy makers, development players and donors. The meeting is hinged around the African graduate student and their research and provides an invaluable opportunity for feedback from stakeholders on the quality, relevance and strategic orientation of university research. This year the conference brought together more than 600 participants from over 30 countries globally to deliberate on how universities might better respond to the imposing African challenges of poverty reduction and food and nutrition insecurity. It was, in short, an excellent opportunity to network with stakeholders deeply interested in higher education for agriculture and to reflect on the wider CAADP agenda and how universities are integrated.
My reflections on the meeting were, first, it emphasised the importance and recognition by stakeholders of the central role that universities can and should play in stimulating and sustaining agricultural-led development. Universities are established to be critical hubs in the creation and management of knowledge and, importantly, to equip future leaders and others with the necessary skills and learning to solve current and emergent problems. There is a vitally important role for universities to play in responding to the challenges facing African agriculture and particularly in supporting rural farmers to innovate through knowledge.
Second, African universities have made great strides in strengthening their graduate programmes through the development and strengthening of new training programmes, including regional centres of excellence such as those supported by RUFORUM. These have resulted in improvements in the quality and relevance of research, as well as its uptake by stakeholders, particularly smallholder poor rural farmers. However, universities must continue to strengthen mechanisms for the effective monitoring, evaluation and marketing of these programmes, as well as the learning they produce, at all levels to sustain these improvements. Increased numbers of graduate students are also required to support CAADP’s implementation and to staff universities.
Third, unlike primary, secondary and undergraduate educational programmes, research at African universities is largely supported by development partners, with negligible funding provided by African governments, the key intended beneficiaries of university research. This has impeded the long-term and strategic orientation of research at the higher education level. Universities must make greater efforts to enhance linkages between their activities and these intended users, including the policy makers. One way in which this might be achieved is by clarifying better how they might contribute to national strategic frameworks, such as the agricultural and food security investment plans of the comprehensive African agricultural development programme. On the flip side, mechanisms must be identified to ensure that the increased contribution to agriculture spills over and supports strengthening graduate education for agriculture. As eloquently put by Madam Graca Machel, “you cannot rely on your neighbour to fill your granary”.
This year’s RUFORUM Biennial conference was an important tool for profiling university research, training and outreach activities. Future conferences should continue to engage key stakeholders to improve the responsiveness of university graduate programmes to the needs of clients, particularly governments.