This is our sixth issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our 10 year anniversary. Download by clicking on the following issues to access the previous issues; RUFORUM Small Competitive Grants; GRGs – Graduate Research Grants (fifth issue) RUFORUM Network: Changing Pedagogical Paradigms, Priorities, and Practice (fourth issue),  Briefing note on the 4th biennial conference (third issue), RUFORUM’s Developmental Roots (second issue) and  RUFORUM@10 (first issue).

If agricultural transformation is to be a central component in achieving the African Agenda 2063,   there needs to be a significant increase in the skills available in rural areas to ensure a radical improvement in the quality and focus of the services supporting the sector.   Universities already house a wealth of highly qualified professionals and can produce the research and graduates to fuel sustainable agricultural growth and rural incomes, provided these universities are tasked, and equipped, to respond to actual demand, sharing their knowledge in ways that reach small farmers.

The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), through its network of 41 universities in eastern, central and southern Africa, is engaged in linking smallholder farmers and their servicing agencies much more closely with faculty and students. These links are both to enable the farmers to articulate their demands and also to make the ideas, research and skills of the universities available in ways that directly assist the farmers to increase output and profitability in sustainable ways.

In 2010 RUFORUM expanded its Competitive Grants (CGS) programme to incorporate 3 pilot Community Action Research Projects (CARPs).  These $350 000 projects, each led by a professor as the principal investigator (PI), fund a PhD student, 3 M.Sc students and 10 undergraduate students to work with primary producers¹ in a participatory research framework, on a platform that includes other agricultural service agencies². These action platforms are expected to become an integral part of university outreach nationally, and the lessons learned are then shared across all the RUFORUM universities. Click here to view or download the full issue.

¹Including smallholder farmers, fisher-folk, foresters, and also small processors, traders etc
²Relevant service agencies providing inputs, advice, support etc – government, civil society, private sector and international.


This is the fifth in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our 10 year anniversary. Download by clicking on the following links to access the previous issues;  ICT in the RUFORUM Network: Changing Pedagogical Paradigms, Priorities, and Practice (fourth issue),  Briefing note on the 4th biennial conference (third issue), RUFORUM’s Developmental Roots (second issue) and  RUFORUM@10 (first issue).

A universally common feature of the post-independence economies of Africa was the near absence of well qualified and experienced professionals in almost all fields – health, education, policy, and agriculture. In many important disciplines, severe deficits of professionals remain today. Many African universities are crowded, poorly resourced, and often unable, even with the best of staff, to provide the quality of education that Africa needs.  Professions, such as agricultural research, where local conditions can be demanding and the rewards (in the absence of adequate facilities and support) are poor, are unable to attract the most talented Africans they need.

Consider the situation which faces the newly trained professional in agriculture returning with a fresh doctorate from a top international university. That person will typically enter an empty laboratory. Transport to the field – to collect samples or data, to meet with farmers and suppliers, and to allow students to undertake field trips – will be limited and of poor reliability. The overcrowded undergraduate programme imposes a challenging teaching load; the demands of university administration further erode the available time for effective field research. There are two common outcomes – either professors simply repeat the experiments that they learned as part of their overseas study or they give up research, take on consulting assignments to supplement their (usually modest) incomes, and neglect their teaching duties. Students become disillusioned and few are attracted to further studies. The skills gap in the vital agricultural industries remains unfilled. Click here to view or download the full issue


The road to Maputo: 21-25 July 2014.
This is the fourth in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our 10 year anniversary. The authors for this issue are Nodumo Dhlamini (ICT Program Manager,  RUFORUM) and Lisbeth Levey, (Consultant, ICT for Development)  Download by clicking on the following issues to access the previous issues; Briefing note on the 4th biennial conference (third issue), RUFORUM’s Developmental Roots (second issue) and  RUFORUM@10 (first issue).

When, Where, and How It all Started
When the FORUM project began, connectivity was not taken for granted the way it sometimes is today.  Email utilization on a measurable scale only began in the late 1980s.  The story of ICT in Africa is one of profound need coupled with intense creativity to drive the rapid spread of these technologies.  The FORUM and now RUFORUM epitomize this principle.  In order to understand just how far RUFORUM has come, a few examples are highlighted below of innovative ICT deployment in universities in the five FORUM countries (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zimbabwe).

  • In 1990, the Bunda College of Agriculture library created an automated bibliographic database of research carried out in Malawi relevant to maize production.  This was one of the first such bibliographies created anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Also in 1990, the small computer center at Eduardo Mondlane University installed an email system, first for the university and then for the entire country, using a dedicated telephone line and a painfully slow modem (1200 bps).  These early experiments paid off.  In 1995, UEM became the second university north of the Limpopo to achieve full Internet capability.
  • In 1991, the University of Nairobi, Makerere University, and the University of Zimbabwe joined an ambitious effort to provide email to their university communities
  • In the mid ‘90’s, Rockefeller Foundation helped selected FORUM university faculties and departments create special computer labs and networks, equipped with CD-ROM, in order to access bibliographic and abstracting databases in the agricultural sciences, particularly TEEAL, the full-text CD-ROM agricultural library of about 130 journals.  RUFORUM has continued to work with its network—organizing training workshops and subsidizing subscription costs.  Because these universities have recognized the importance of TEEAL, more than half of them are paying for their own subscriptions, now that RUFORUM is no longer covering the costs.
  • Not content with CD-ROM, the Rockefeller Foundation helped FORUM postgraduate students at Makerere University organize an information retrieval skills workshop in 1997 on using the Internet and search engines to access research information in the agricultural sciences.  RUFORUM workshops such as this one continue.
  • In 1993, the African Journal of Crop Sciences began as a print journal in the department of crop sciences at Makerere University.  It is now fully online and freely accessible worldwide (http://www.bioline.org.br/cs).  It was an important vehicle then for publishing FORUM research output and remains so today for RUFORUM.

Key findings from RUFORUM ICT studies

  • In 2009 86 percent of the RUFORUM universities surveyed had a campus backbone; 58 percent had ICT policies in place; and 60 percent had central ICT units to manage and monitor ICT projects.  However, the Colleges of Agriculture lagged behind in use of ICT for teaching, learning, and research in comparison to other disciplines within the university.
  • In 2011 59 percent of the 29 universities surveyed had a rationale in place for e-learning within an explicit institutional plan; 45 percent had e-learning policies compared to 26 percent in 2009; and 32 percent had e-learning units.  The situation for the Colleges of Agriculture, however, remained the same—teaching content in agriculture was almost negligible on institutional learning management systems. Click here to view or download the full issue

 

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