Written by: Moses Osiru – Deputy Executive Secretary, (RUFORUM)
Nearly two months after the conclusion of RUFORUM’s Fourth Biennial Conference, held in Maputo, Mozambique, this is an opportune time for reflection. Intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), African Heads of State declared 2014 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa. Given that CAADP itself originated from the adoption by African Head of States and Governments of the Maputo declaration on agricultural and food security, it was only fitting that the conference was held in the Mozambiquan capital.
Held every two years, the conference is a key event in the RUFORUM calendar, bringing together key university actors, including students, and profiling the outputs and activities of African universities to policy makers, development players and donors. The meeting is hinged around the African graduate student and their research and provides an invaluable opportunity for feedback from stakeholders on the quality, relevance and strategic orientation of university research. This year the conference brought together more than 600 participants from over 30 countries globally to deliberate on how universities might better respond to the imposing African challenges of poverty reduction and food and nutrition insecurity. It was, in short, an excellent opportunity to network with stakeholders deeply interested in higher education for agriculture and to reflect on the wider CAADP agenda and how universities are integrated.
My reflections on the meeting were, first, it emphasised the importance and recognition by stakeholders of the central role that universities can and should play in stimulating and sustaining agricultural-led development. Universities are established to be critical hubs in the creation and management of knowledge and, importantly, to equip future leaders and others with the necessary skills and learning to solve current and emergent problems. There is a vitally important role for universities to play in responding to the challenges facing African agriculture and particularly in supporting rural farmers to innovate through knowledge.
Second, African universities have made great strides in strengthening their graduate programmes through the development and strengthening of new training programmes, including regional centres of excellence such as those supported by RUFORUM. These have resulted in improvements in the quality and relevance of research, as well as its uptake by stakeholders, particularly smallholder poor rural farmers. However, universities must continue to strengthen mechanisms for the effective monitoring, evaluation and marketing of these programmes, as well as the learning they produce, at all levels to sustain these improvements. Increased numbers of graduate students are also required to support CAADP’s implementation and to staff universities.