About the Conference

Background

African countries have shown strong economic performance during the last decade. From 2002 to 2008, Average GDP growth in Africa was 6.4 percent (World Bank, 2015) with this tread continuing into 2015. Improved democratisation, governance, and the increased role of the private sector, has underpinned this improved performance. The contribution of agriculture to GDP in Africa remains high, on average contributing over 30%. The World Bank (2013) projects that by 2030, agriculture and agribusiness will have grown to a US$1 trillion business, from a current US$313 billion today and should be a priority concern for the development agenda on the Continent.

The centrality of Agriculture to development efforts in Africa was underscored in 2003 as African leaders agreed to implement continent wide the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) as a framework for development. CAADP calls for a 6% annual increase in agricultural output. To support the CAADP process, leaders agreed to enhance investments in the agricultural sector, by allocating a minimum of 10% of their budgets towards the strengthening of the agricultural sector and development. In 2014, African leaders recommitted to the CAADP through the Malabo Declaration. The Malabo Declaration commits to 1) the principles and values of the CAADP Process; 2) commitments to enhance investments to finance agriculture and to end hunger by 2025 (the last through sustainable agricultural production and marketing); 3) to halve postharvest losses by 2025; and 4) to halve poverty by 2025 through agricultural transformation.  

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) is an association of 60 African Agricultural Universities who recognise the important role but largely unfulfilled role that universities can play to support development in Africa. RUFORUM envisions ‘a vibrant agricultural sector linked to African universities that can produce high-performing graduates and high-quality research, responsive to the demands of Africa’s farmers for innovations, and able to generate sustainable livelihoods and national economic development’. RUFORUM ‘modus operandi’ is to strengthen agricultural development by:

  1. Building an effective platform for University support to smallholders by enabling the University community to contribute to the productivity of small-scale producers and the value chains that serve them. This platform also serves to provide direct links into the national research and policy nexus.
  2. Realize economies of scale and scope that link national capacities regionally, rationalizing resource use and promoting international standards of excellence
  3. Engaging University actors along the whole value chain, including sister organizations and the private sector in mutually beneficial research and training to accelerate delivery of agricultural science-based innovations
  4. Increasing participation and voice of women in higher education and activity along the value chain
  5. Scaling RUFORUM best practices through a) building lessons into academic teaching, b) working with partners in selected countries, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation anchor countries to spread findings through their networks both geographically and along value chains and c) taking on a visionary/advocacy role at the continental level.
Introduction

According to UNECA (2015) two primary challenges facing the African continent are how to accelerate strong economic growth and how to transform growth to productivity-induced sustainable, inclusive, employment-generating, poverty-reducing, and environmentally-friendly growth. Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) is an important vehicle for harnessing agriculture for development, enhancing competitiveness and responding to current challenges being faced by Africa. This is the key underpinning to the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, 2024 (STISA). The STISA contributes directly to Africa’s Agenda 2063, by mainstreaming the use of science, technology and innovation for development. STISA thus recognises the importance of higher education as an underpinning for achieving Agenda 2063 to deliver quality and relevant graduates to support production, industrialisation and development. STISA outlines its prerequisite actions as requiring that AUC “member states continue to expand availability of quality post graduate education and in particular programmes leading to doctoral qualifications”. African universities are thus tasked to enhance their responsiveness to modern day demands to produce the new African graduates to support development. More recently, there has been greater awareness on the actual and potential returns to higher education which is estimated to be much higher in SSA than other parts of the World, at about 20% (World Bank, 2015).

Higher Education challenges in Africa include low enrolment (averaging less than 10% gross enrolment compared to global average closer to 30%), limited funding, poor institutional governance and leadership, inadequate infrastructure for teaching, learning and research and quality assurance and low scientific output (USAID, 2014; World Bank, 2009; Adipala et al., 2014) among others. Universities are also criticised for their inability to respond to the current challenges being faced by rural small scale farmers in Africa, who make up majority (over 70%) of Africa’s population. The relevance of university outputs (graduates and technologies) has been expressed as a concern from consumers of university products. Higher education requires a much closer engagement with the private sector to enhance its significance to society and transform away from the traditional role of universities in Africa. Engagement of higher education with the private sector will be critical for a number of reasons:

  • The private sector is increasingly the primary employer of African graduates, as employment opportunities in the public sector shrinks. Future employment opportunities should target the private sector;
  • The Private sector presents an opportunity for diversifying funding sources for higher education and strengthening its relevance including by providing greater role for experiential learning through for example, internships in student training;
  • The Youth bulge in Africa is a potential driver for economic growth in Africa, but only if graduates will have the entrepreneurial skills to harness opportunities for income generation and can drive growth. Private sector engagement will enhance universities’ capacity to meet these needs.

About the Biennial Conference Organisers

RUFORUM is an association of 60 Universities in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa which envisions ‘a vibrant agricultural sector linked to African universities which produce high performing graduates and high quality research responsive to the demands of Africa’s farmers for innovations and able to generate sustainable livelihoods and national economic development’.  RUFORUM also has collaborating partners in West Africa beyond its member Universities in Benin, Ghana and Nigeria through the inclusion of students from several West African countries (including Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Togo) in the Network’s regional PhD and MSc programmes. Significantly, an MOU with the Africa Union Commission (AUC), signed in 2014, serves to reinforce the framework for aligning capacity building activities and developing research and development goals for Africa. Through the MOU, the AUC has mandated RUFORUM to facilitate and coordinate work in the area of higher education in agriculture, and its relationship to science, technology and innovation on the continent. www.ruforum.org

Stellenbosch University (SU) is home to an academic community of 30 150 students (including 4117 international students representing 122 nationalities). The University is amongst South Africa's leading tertiary institutions based on research output, student pass rates and rated scientists, and is recognised internationally as an academic institution of excellence. It boasts the highest weighted research output per full-time academic staff member of all South African universities and the second-highest number of scientists in South Africa who have been rated by the National Research Foundation (NRF). It also has the highest student success rate in the country. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2015), SU is one of the top 300 universities in the world and among the top 20 in BRICS countries. In 2015 the Faculty of AgriSciences and its department of Forestry were ranked first in South Africa and Africa according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2015.  It also features among the world's elite institutions in 10 of the 36 subjects featured in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2015 http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=2555.

University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is one of the top five leading universities in South Africa and ranks in the top 3% of universities internationally. The university is spread over five campuses and is based on a College model, with four Colleges and 19 Schools in total. UKZN prides itself on being research-led. Its academic standards and highly productive research output has earned it the top spot in terms of total research publications output for the past three years in a row among 25 public funded universities in South Africa.  UKZN accounts for 13.2% of South Africa’s research output and according to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) of South Africa, the research output per UKZN staff member is 105% of the national norm. The University’s teaching and research programmes have attracted scholars and highly respected academics from both within South Africa and abroad. UKZN has academic exchange programmes with some 46 countries internationally. UKZN student enrolments stand at 45,000 making it one of the largest and most vibrant contact universities in South Africa. http://www.ukzn.ac.za.

The University of Venda (UNIVEN) is a comprehensive, rural-based higher education institution which has entrenched an institutional culture of excellence and quality, characterised by peace and stability on campus. Its university community comprises approximately 15000 students and more than 450 academic staff members. UNIVEN’s research output continues to grow exponentially. The audited output of research publications increased in 2014 by 52.93 publication units - from 148.77 units in 2013 to 227.51 in 2014. Univen plays an active and leading role in the field of Community Engagement. The Vuwani Science Resource Centre brings science, mathematics and technology closer to rural communities. UNIVEN is proud of the community-based research of the Institute for Rural Development. International partnership in community engagement is a specific strength of the University. UNIVEN has heavily invested in state-of-the-Art infrastructure and research instrumentation. In the last decade, the University has transformed into a locally relevant, but globally competitive institution of higher learning in which all members of the community, irrespective of race, gender or nationality feel welcome and motivated to contribute to its success. It has assumed its rightful place amongst its South African and international peers.

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