By Richard Powell, RUFORUM Communications Consultant

Richard Powell

Richard Powell, RUFORUM Communications Consultant

The stereotype of the impoverished African smallholder farmer, two-fifths of which are female, has always struck me as a figure requiring deep sympathy in the face of the apparently onward march of monolithic agribusiness, where their needs are superseded by those of anonymous corporate self-interest.

But my ignorance of the actual and critical contribution of this group was addressed in 2012 when reading a small report from the UK-based Guardian newspaper.1  The author of the piece stated that smallholder farmers account for 80% of food production in sub-Saharan Africa, and there is an increasing recognition among large private sector food retailers that they need to be nurtured to safeguard their future and protect their contribution – primarily raw materials – to the continent’s and global needs.  Part of this nurturing process entails mentoring in training and technology to increase agricultural production, achieved to an extent by effective partnerships with higher educational institutes, enhancing the value chain to enable them to move from a subsistence existence to one making profit. Read More

The 4th RUFORUM Biennal Conference is one that we are all looking forward to. We are delighted to have very many partners on board.  The ones that are listed here below will be hosting side events at the Conference. We are looking forward to having interesting dialogues and conversations with them.

CABI:The session is titled “Building Linkages between education and practical knowledge resources” and will be hosted on the 22nd July, 2014 for a duration of 90 Minutes. For more details, please contact Julia Dennis at

SAFE-AFAAS/GFRAS:  The session is titled “Extension education and training: A link for translating outputs of agricultural science to meet smallholder farmers’ needs in Africa” and will be hosted on the 22nd July, 2014 for a duration of 5 hours. They will be sponsoring 29 participants. For more information, please contact Dr Jeff Mutimba – SAFE/Winrock at or Mr Max Olupot – AFAAS at molupot@afaas-africa-org. Read More

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.

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