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[ACCRA] African universities must embrace agricultural research and development — and ensure such research is translated into policy and meets the needs of its farmers, a meeting has heard.

Richard Mkandawire, head of the Comprehensive Agricultural Action Programme (CAADP) at The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), said African tertiary institutions continue to be perceived as ivory towers in many countries.

"The post-colonial state has failed to embrace tertiary institutions in national development," Mkandawire said at a dialogue between universities and agricultural organisations in Accra, Ghana, this week (28–31 July).

He urged African universities to work together through the African Universities Forum Network to embrace the CAADP action plan, agreed by African heads of state in 2003.

The plan was endorsed as a vision for the restoration of agricultural growth, food security, and rural development in Africa. CAADP seeks an average annual growth rate of six per cent in agriculture — yet to be met by most African governments.

Sheryl Hendricks — head of agricultural science and agribusiness at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa — says institutions should carry out evidence-based research and disseminate both research results and examples of best practice to farmers and policymakers. 

But Monty Jones, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), says that the continent will need a US$4.4 billion annual investment to effectively carry out agricultural research and development — almost double its current budget.

"Africa's entire research and development budget is US$2.2 billion annually. Regional bodies such as NEPAD, the African Union and FARA provide close to a further US$500 million a year and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research provide US$250 million to sixteen research centres," he told SciDev.Net.

"As a continent we would love to benefit from the G8 allocation of US$20 billion allocated to the developing world to make up the shortfall," he says (see G8 pledges $US20 billion for agriculture).

Jones says there is also an urgent need to build institutional support and human capacity by training plant breeders, agronomists and plant pathologists — and that governments should improve infrastructure so that food can move faster from the producer to the consumer, for example.

The meeting was jointly organised by FARA, The ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation of the Netherlands and the Association of African Universities.