African conference calls for new agricultural universities

The conference called for more collaboration between research, training and extension service providers Copyright: Flickr/CIMMYT

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[KAMPALA] East and Central African countries should establish a new generation of innovation-oriented agricultural universities that would help integrate research, training and extension services, a conference has agreed.

The recommendation came at the close of the first General Assembly of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), held in Uganda last month (14–16 December).

The ASARECA assembly agreed to foster partnerships within individual countries and across the region, including closer collaboration between research, training and extension service providers, and more private sector engagement in commercialising research outputs.

The new universities, said the recommendation, should be anchored in ministries of agriculture but linked with other ministries such as education, environment and transport. That would eradicate the disconnection between National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) and training in various faculties of agriculture at existing universities.

Currently, NARIs report to ministries of agriculture, while faculties and colleges of agriculture report to ministries of education.

"There is an urgent need to create a new generation of innovation-oriented agricultural institutions that bring together in an efficient way agricultural research, training, commercialisation and extension," wrote Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School, United States, in the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation.

Juma said Africa is dominated by fragmented approaches where separate, and poorly-linked, institutions often report to different ministries.

This, he said, can be overcome by adding research and extension components to existing agricultural universities, and creating the new generation of agricultural universities recommended by the assembly. Their core functions would be upgraded training, extension and commercialisation for existing NARIs, and agricultural innovation.

All these options, he said, need high-level political commitments.

Paul Kibwika, a senior lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Extension Education at Makerere University, Uganda, agreed that political commitments would be essential. And he added that new policies would also be required: "In most countries [in the region] the ministries of education accredit the universities — how would they share this mandate with the agricultural ministries?"

Eldad Tuhakirwa, deputy executive director of ASARECA, said the organisation can only promote the idea but does not have the money to finance it.

"This was a dialogue between the different stakeholders at the meeting and they came up with that recommendation. Our role is to promote the idea through our network so that governments that have the money can implement it."

ASARECA was established in 1994 and its member countries are Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It works to promote science and technology and innovation to help feed the region in the 21st century.