Over 1000 delegates representing governments, academia, private sector, farmers and other organizations who attended the Sixth African Higher Education and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) Biennial Conference in Nairobi, have resolved “to enhance the sharing of knowledge and experiences with international and regional partners such as the United States, Europe and Korea, Japan, China and Brazil, to facilitate and accelerate university transformation for relevance in Africa.”
The resolution was one of the 18-point resolutions contained in a communique reached by the delegates including over 20 ministers representing higher education in Africa, who converged in Nairobi, Kenya from 22 – 27 October, 2018 to discuss issues related to strengthening higher agricultural education, technology, science and innovation in Africa.
The conference whose key objective was to provide a platform for dialogue on the role of agricultural universities in Africa’s development agenda, also explored ways to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, and the African Union Agenda 2063.
Organized under the theme: “Aligning African universities to accelerate attainment of Africa’s agenda 2063,” the conference communique released at the conclusion of the week-long conference also notes that, “By 2040, Africa’s labour force is expected to reach 1 billion, over one quarter of the world’s population, surpassing China and India. The demand for higher education in Africa will continue to increase in the next decade, putting massive pressure on quality and relevance of education.”
While conference participants acknowledged that in a competitive knowledge based economy, higher education institutions are critical in training the critical mass of human resources required to deploy science, technology and innovation, it was observed, postgraduate training programmes are heavily constrained by low numbers of PhD qualified staff in African universities, coupled with low investments in research, low completion rates, as well as high numbers of undergraduate students which impacts further on quality of postgraduate programmes. “Only 40% of total university staff in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) have PhDs,” the communique reveals.
The Conference, organized by RUFORUM jointly with its member universities in Kenya, brought together participants from 105 member universities drawn from 37 African countries to deliberate on ways of “Strengthening African Higher Education to contribute to development.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta in his address read on his behalf by the Education Cabinet Secretary, Ambassador (Dr.) Amina Mohamed during opening ceremony, said, estimates indicate that agriculture is Sub-Sahara Africa’s (SSA) most important sector, “supports over 60% of the region’s labor force, contributes 17% of aggregate gross domestic product, accounts for 40% of the region’s total economic output, and accounts for more than 75 % of domestic trade by value.”
Despite its importance, SSA’s agricultural sector particularly its technical efficiency and productivity is yet to be fully realized, observed the President, adding that “improving the performance and competitiveness of the sector remains a matter of great strategic importance for the region.”
President Kenyatta, said, universities can play a central role in producing innovation-oriented yet practical solutions to local agricultural challenges, and urged universities to explore ways of popularizing agriculture among students, noting few students enroll in agriculture courses, a trend he attributed to images of poverty that are associated with agriculture.
He thus advised universities “to explore ways of making agriculture courses more attractive to students, through exposure to modern technology, entrepreneurial training, internships and other opportunities.”
First Lady of Uganda and Minister for Education and Sports Mrs. Janet Museveni, said, “Africa’s Agenda 2063 compels us to keep at the forefront the knowledge that Africa must be a strong, resilient and influential global player and partner, which requires men and women who are ready to run the RUFORUM Agenda with a passion to transform Africa.”
Minister for Higher Education, South Africa Hon. Naledi Pandor interrogated “What should African governments do to achieve the goals of Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) and Agenda 2063?” Hon. Pandor said, STISA focusses socio-economic benefit areas and further outlined certain aspects which she said, were necessary in achieving the STISA goals: academic freedom and freedom of expression, international partnerships, funding for high level development of graduates and support for established and emerging researchers.
Nigerian Former Minister of Education, Hon. Obiageli Ezekweselili, highlighted what she considered key points for action to move Africa forward, rallying Africans to take responsibility of the failures since independence – “failure to make citizens the primacy of the development agenda.” Although human capital is central to African development, she decried that “incentive for knowledge is almost zero in Africa.”
JKUAT was among institutions that took part in the conference activities with researchers making presentations, as innovators showcased their outputs. Young innovators and individuals who have made significant contributions to Africa’s development were recognized by RUFORUM.