RUFORUM and Universities in Africa’s Agricultural Transformation

Author: Dr. Clesensio Tizikara

Africa is a rich continent bursting with potential. Unfortunately, nobody eats potential. The ultimate measure of progress is the wellbeing of people – and Africa’s recent growth has not done nearly as much as it should to reduce poverty and hunger, or improve health and education. To sustain growth that improves the lives of all Africans, the continent needs an economic transformation that taps into Africa’s riches: its fertile land, its extensive fisheries and forests, and the energy and ingenuity of its people. The numbers are compelling: at 200 million hectares, the continent is home to nearly half of the world’s uncultivated land that can be brought into production. Africa has 33 million farms of less than 2 hectares, uses only 2 percent of its renewable water resources compared to 5 percent globally, and agriculture provides up to 69 percent of all jobs on the continent. About 50 percent of the farmers are women. The average age of farmers in Africa is 60, a stark contrast to 60 percent of the population who are under 24. It is estimated that by 2050, over 330 million young Africans will have entered the labour market. Agriculture today accounts for 32% of GDP in Africa and is the sector that offers greatest potential for poverty reduction and job creation, particularly among vulnerable rural populations and urban dwellers with limited job opportunities.Visioning Africa’s Agricultural Ecosystem

Given Africa’s abundant resources, including a resourceful and enterprising youth population, strategic investments in agriculture can unleash virtuous growth cycles. Africa’s objective for the coming decades is to “ensure food security for a population that is increasing and becoming more urbanised, helping to create wealth and jobs, in rural areas in particular, while reducing inequalities and vulnerability and protecting environmental and human capital”. The CAADP-Malabo Declaration vision focuses on promoting and achieving accelerated African agricultural growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods. The Malabo Declaration mission is to achieve this transformation through harnessing opportunities for inclusive growth and sustainable development, and working through and empowering multi-stakeholder partnerships. The Africa agricultural transformation agenda, therefore, envisions farmers able to feed their families and the wider community, producing enough to earn a living without compromising the ecosystem and having the knowledge to make better decisions about what to produce and how to produce it.

The challenges and opportunities which face Africa’s agriculture today require a strong and coordinated support system which closes the gap between proven best practice and average performance across many key technologies and practices that affect the viability, profitability and sustainability of agribusinesses. Africa needs a package of complementary public and private investments and policy reforms that can deliver the much needed transformational change. Africa’s agriculture should move towards, (i) increasing yields, profitability, and environmental sustainability simultaneously; (ii) developing breeds and varieties needed for sustainable agri-food systems; (iii) decreasing food loss and waste through more efficient distribution systems; (iv) creating and sharing resources and knowledge solutions that serve all populations; (v) ensuring inclusivity and equitable development; (vi)  addressing the burden of undernutrition and other diet-related health problems to ensure full human potential; and, (vii) ensuring a safe and secure food supply that protects and improves public health.For this to be realised, it is important to engender an environment that will ensure that agriculture enterprises and engagement are attractive and can generate decent returns to private and public investments. And there are new trends that are changing Africa’s agricultural development landscape: the digital revolution is making it possible for farmers to use their smartphones, to find information quickly and stay in contact with customers and other farmers; technology is making farming exciting for young people – cloud computing, an increase in connectivity, open-source software and other affordable and accessible digital tools have not only made advanced farming technologies accessible for most young farmers. Digitised farming systems are creating a new cadre of motivated young entrepreneurs who are hungry for information about ways they can improve their farms, produce higher yields, diversify output and find low-cost solutions to their everyday farming problems.

Agenda for Action

The transformation of Africa’s Agriculture into a globally competitive, inclusive and business-oriented sector that creates wealth, generates gainful employment and improves quality of life will require having a strong agricultural knowledge management and innovation support system with integrated and market-responsive research, advisory and education services . Maintaining profitable farm operations, meeting future demand for affordable, nutritious food, and achieving healthy working landscapes and ecosystems in the context of a rapidly changing climate, shrinking water supplies, and growing populations will require models of innovation that create stronger connections among researchers, producers, educators, NGOs, and public and private institutions. Given the capacity constraints most African countries face, agricultural-development plans must be less ambitious and more targeted. Governments, working with all interested parties, should pursue selected initiatives that have identified sources of demand. Achieving the transformation Africa seeks will only come if the continent demonstrates stronger leadership and accountability.

In a recent article , McKinsey & Company – who have worked on the planning and implementation of agricultural development in more than ten African countries, across the public, private, and social sectors – offer lessons to move the issue of African agricultural development beyond the question “what” and toward the “who” and the “how.” The authors have codified insights from this work into four lessons: aim for narrower, higher-impact projects; pay more attention to the final market for agricultural goods; assure clear roles for the private sector; and think about implementation from the start:

  1. a)Focusing on higher-impact initiatives: African Heads of State and Governments must demonstrate vision, champion agriculture and lend their leadership to national agricultural plans and multi-stakeholder platforms to drive agricultural transformation. Many country plans are broad and diffuse, attempting to cover multiple regions and sectors without devoting sufficient resources to the effort. Governments should therefore make their plans as targeted and explicit as possible. They can concentrate investment on a value chain, on a “breadbasket” region positioned for large productivity increases, or on an infrastructure corridor. Countries could move sequentially, learning from success in one region or sector before spreading investments to others.
  2. b)Greater alignment, accountability, and measurement of progress on agricultural targets: To carry out an agricultural-development strategy, government officials must work with farmers and the private sector across departments. Since most African countries face capacity constraints, governments must design clear, simple strategies; reduce the number of agents they use by working with aggregators, such as nucleus farmers, who in turn deal directly with smallholders; and assign responsibilities clearly. Linkages between research centres, universities and agricultural extension advisory systems require strengthening so that the incentives of these institutions are aligned with agricultural priorities in the country, and technologies generated from these systems are locally adapted or appropriate.
  3. c)Creating clear roles for the private sector and strong frameworks for collaboration and mutual accountability between the government, private sector, development partners and other actors: Agricultural-development programs require the active engagement of private agents such as farmers or farmers’ organizations, input suppliers, warehouse operators, buyers, and traders. Agri-dealers and other middlemen, perform essential coordination work – linking small farmers to markets, providing inputs, providing capital and organizational know-how.
  4. d)Developing markets to complement supply measures: Most agricultural-development plans focus on supply side interventions, such as improved seed and fertilizers. Many pay too little attention to the demand side – the place where the increased production will ultimately go. Once the subsistence requirements of the producers’ families and local communities have been met, there are three main sources of demand: export markets (international and regional), domestic urban markets, and food processing. Food processing is particularly attractive because it is both a source of demand for agricultural products and a job creator.

Role of RUFORUM and Universities

RUFORUM is a “dynamic regional platform that fosters collaboration, coordination and learning amongst member universities” through programmes that: (a) promote transformative teaching, training and learning; (b) institutionalise impact-oriented research, innovation and community engagement; (c) enhance agribusiness acumen and entrepreneurship amongst students, faculty, staff and communities; and, (d) enable RUFORUM and universities to take leadership and be more influential in national and continental agrifood systems and higher agricultural education policy debate and regulatory reform. Universities have a role to play in ensuring that the appropriate knowledge required for Africa’s agricultural transformation is generated and skills are kept current and relevant.

The universities in Africa can collectively commit to transformative student education and learning that prepares the future farmers and agriculture sector leaders of Africa, and research excellence and impact to create and advance knowledge and understanding through the discovery, dissemination, and application of research within and across disciplines and scaling up successful policies, programs and projects to reach and benefit a greater number of people, over a wider geographical area more quickly, more equitably and more lastingly, and institutionalising useful approaches within and among institutions and their partners. Universities ought to serve and engage society by sharing knowledge, resources and skills; actively engage in policy dialogue and reform by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyse action and elevate food and agriculture, and higher agricultural education policies as national priorities. RUFORUM products must assure Africa of transformative results. Africa needs quality human resources and capacity required to intensify and increase Africa’s agricultural productivity. Africa needs products, processes and knowledge developed through university research to reach down to value chain actors in the agri-food system to catalyse transformation. The university system is well positioned to impart citizenship, employability, professional, and entrepreneurial skills that will last a lifetime. RUFORUM working closely with local communities and business, governments, non-profits, and member universities can design and offer high-impact programs for diffusion to drive results for transforming Agriculture in Africa. Click here to download this digest.

About the Author

Dr Clesensio Tizikara, a Ugandan national, was educated at Ntare School (1972 – 1977), Makerere University (1978 – 1981) and University of Ife/Obafemi Awolowo (1983 – 1990). He holds a BSc in Agriculture, MPhil and PhD in Animal Science and has trained in areas of policy analysis, strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, public speaking and agricultural research management. Dr Tizikara had a short stint teaching at Makerere University (1981-83/85) before joining the Agricultural Secretariat of the Bank of Uganda as Livestock Policy Analyst (1989 – 1994) from where he voluntarily retired to join the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda (1995 – 2004) where he served in various capacities but most importantly as Director for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. He has served on several committees on reform of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Uganda, Rwanda and Mozambique; served as Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of South Sudan (2011-13) and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the Forum for Agricultural research in Africa (FARA) Secretariat in Accra, Ghana (2013-2016). Dr Tizikara is now retired into private consultancy and farming.

This is our sixteenth issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our RUFORUM AGM Digests. You can get more details about the meeting at and more information about RUFORUM at You many also join us online using Social Media for real time updates. Our Official hashtag is #Visioning2030


One thought on “RUFORUM and Universities in Africa’s Agricultural Transformation

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: