Enhancing the role of Universities in Agribusiness through linkages with society
Experiences from the Agribusiness Enhance Project FED/2013/320-100
RUFORUM is an Associate Partner for the project “Strengthening Universities Capacity to Enhance Competitiveness of Agribusinesses in East and West Africa – Agribusiness Enhance in short,” an Edulink project grant number FED/2013/320-100. The project brings together agribusiness educators and researchers from Egerton University, Kenya, ;Mekelle University, Ethiopia; Gulu University, Uganda; University of Port Hartcourt, Nigeria and University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
The project has just completed its second year and has up until now conducted a number of activities aiming at bringing the universities in closer contact with the actors in the agribusiness sector. Activities have included: cluster development in selected value chains; round table workshops bringing stakeholders from the agribusiness sector together to identify areas of collaboration; development of training manuals; training in innovation and entrepreneurship teaching; curriculum development; establishing an Entrepreneur Fund Scheme; and developing new models for student attachment.
The Entrepreneurs Fund Scheme aims to incentivise agribusiness graduate students to become entrepreneurs rather than job seekers only. The Fund Scheme works in this way. The students receive entrepreneurship and business plan training as part of their education. Students may be at under-graduate or graduate level depending on local conditions. They then team up in enterprise groups of 3-4 persons that develop a business plan. The plan is presented to a group of university staff and external sector experts, including bankers that evaluate and select the most promising projects for funding. Funding is provided in terms of ‘a soft’ loan with reasonable interest rate, and the loan must to be repaid within two years. These funds will function as a revolving fund for future student entrepreneurs. Currently, the businesses that students have developed include agriculture and agribusiness consultancy, vegetables production, broiler chicken production, bakery using Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) and livestock feed production among others.
Funding student entrepreneurs is a novel activity for most universities and may therefore provide an administrative challenge. At Egerton University this will be overcome by aligning the new scheme with an existing practice of a social fund for students, thus using institutionalized procedures. At Gulu University the funds are managed by a separate project account. The experience with the student enterprises has been largely successful and these have become important role models for other students considering taking the plunge into self-employment.
Student attachment programmes is another important activity promoted by Agribusiness Enhance project. Attachment programmes at the four African universities take different format, but are implemented based on a well-described procedure. An important feature is the opportunity to engage with external sector stakeholders such as individual farmers, farmer groups and cooperatives, processers, public agencies, NGOs and donor organisations. Attachment may take place at under-graduate as well as graduate level. This attachment programme facilitates that the universities become sensitized to actual challenges in the agribusiness value chain, as well as provides an opportunity for the students to demonstrate their competencies and usefulness to sector stakeholders. Attached students learn from practice, but they also help farmers, enterprises and organisations to obtain information they don’t have themselves by identifying adequate expertise within other departments at the university. During the attachment at the MSc level, the student and attachment host identify a particular problem that that the student will address and find solutions to.
An important feature in the attachment programme is that students must document lessons learnt in a written report. At Gulu University, another equally important element in the attachment scheme is the evaluation of the process by both the external partner, university advisor, and not the least the students themselves. This provides input for continuously improving practices. The project’s experiences show that it is important to find a modality where attachment can be synchronized with other activities at the university. Thus, in one case the attachment is implemented as one day per week during one year in parallel with regular course. In other cases, the attachment is the only student activity over a period of two months.
Agribusiness Enhance is now entering its third and last year and the focus will be on curriculum development and production of teaching modules applicable across the four universities in East and West Africa as well as develop the chosen agro-innovation clusters.
For further information please contact project PI Prof. Patience Mshenga, Egerton University at email: firstname.lastname@example.org