More than 750 academics and agriculture stakeholders from across Africa have gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, as the 5th African Higher Agricultural Education Week and RUFORUM Biennial Conference officially got underway on Tuesday.
With the theme: Linking Universities with Private Sector, Governments and other Stakeholders in support of Agriculture Development in Africa, participants can expect an emphasis on enhancing university engagement with the Private Sector, Civil Society and CGIAR.
But the obstacles on the road to agricultural prosperity that members will wrangle with were pointed out early during the 12th Annual General Meeting (AGM). Various speakers highlighted climate change, scientific skills development and effective implementation as challenges. At the same time, several members said that Africa has to become less reliant on funding from outside the continent.
At the official opening ceremony there was a note of optimism about the potential of the continent. But several speakers cautioned that a bright future for Africa also required preparation for the pressures to come through strengthened collaboration.
Prof. Mabel Imbuga told the delegates: “The whole of the world is relying on Africa… because we are well-endowed with natural resources… are we ready?”
Celebrating great work which will help the continent reach this goal, Canadian Professor Lorne Babiuk from the University of Alberta was awarded the GCHERA World Agriculture Prize 2016 that recognises excellence in leadership in agricultural and life science universities.
African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma congratulated RUFORUM on what it’s managed to achieve in a short space of time:
“I’m very happy to be here again because I take RUFORUM very seriously and… because you can see that they are growing very fast. They are doing a lot of work, they are producing lots of students and skills in agriculture, so I think they need all the support we can give as the AU, but also as governments, as business and as parents of students.”
But Dlamini-Zuma’s address also had a more serious undertone: “There are lots of good things that are happening but we must also remind ourselves of the challenges,” she told delegates.
Some of the challenges in her eyes include access to higher education. She told delegates that African nations can no longer wait for the state to deliver in this regard.
This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director for the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), who earlier in the day said:
“The path of a rising Africa… is the path that you and I tread on ad daily basis. It does not just exist in the clouds, it must rise one faculty at a time, on university at a time… we don’t wait for the manna to drop from above anymore.”
Underscoring the importance of bringing stakeholders from the public and private sectors together, Dlamini-Zuma announced she will convene a meeting of African heads of state, academia and the private sector in Mauritius on 19-21 March 2017 to stimulate collaboration that supports innovation in Africa.