PotatsPotato (Solanum tuberosum) is one of the main crops grown in Uganda. Most of the production (87%) takes place in the highland areas of South-western region where the crop has become prominently important as a source of food and income for the smallholder farmers. However, the reality that many of us are unaware of is that not all the tubers farmers currently harvest are of any economic value. In some farms, up to 6 out of 10 potato tubers per plant harvested are too small to be marketed or prepared for a meal. It is therefore a nightmare for such potato growers that for every harvest about 60% of their investment is thrown to trash in form of valueless small-size tubers. The situation has been worsened by farmers’ perception and misconception that seed potato has to be of small size. No single effort has substantially convinced the smallholder farmers that “good seed is not size but quality”. To many, small size and quality are synonymous, and the seed sellers have capitalized on this misconception to reap big by selling these inferior, otherwise valueless tubers, at high prices.  The farmers themselves are also in the game! On harvest, they sort out and keep the tiny tubers as seed for the next season. They are not aware that the tubers are tiny because of various factors including quality degeneration and disease infestation, hence disqualifying them as seed.

The recycling of these tubers rejected by the market and consumers also recycles the inferior attributes of the potato and drags on diseases of the previous seasons to the next.  This creates a vicious cycle of unproductivity that makes farmers live with a nightmare each season and each harvest. This practice is partly responsible for the persistent low productivity (more unmarketable tiny tubers season after season) and low profitability recorded in Uganda’s potato value chain. One could read disappointment, anxiety and despair on the faces of the farmers. They invest a lot in the production, but reap unexpectedly low and they cannot figure out why.


Few of these tubers are of marketable size

The CARP+ Project, funded by the MasterCard Foundation through RUFORUM, is working with potato farmers and communities in South-western Uganda to give them hope and reverse their nightmare into a lucrative venture. Indeed, the CARP+ Team, whose objective is improving the potato value chain in Uganda, discourages recycling poor quality seed and promotes adding value to the harvested tubers in order to increase farmers’ benefits. The Team, led by Professor Johnny Mugisha and two of his experts in Food Science and Technology, Dr. Abel Atukwase and Napoleon Kajunju, Msc Student, believes that value can be made out the tiny tubers, making a breakthrough in the potato industry. Not sparing the potato peels, the Project looks at the tiny tubers as raw materials for a high quality flour that can be used as a supplement food or intermediate material in making products like snacks, biscuits, breads and non-food products. The good news is that in making flour the size of tubers does not matter unlike in the French fries industry, for example.


Farmers expressing the nightmare of tiny tubers

This will provide a viable outlet for the tiny tubers, making them unavailable for recycling as seed; creating value out of them, and breaking the vicious cycle of low potato productivity. With patience, potato farmers in South-western Uganda are waiting and supporting the CARP+ Team for the realization of this dream.

By Napoleon Kajunju, Msc Student and
Johnny Mugisha; CARP+ Project PI

University World News
Agricultural higher education project calls for proposals (Africa/RUFORUM)
The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in collaboration with the governments of Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi and Mozambique and the World Bank have launched a call for proposals for a multimillion dollar higher education agriculture project intended to boost human resource capacity for the transformation of agriculture. The Strengthening Higher Agricultural Education in Africa (SHAEA) initiative, which kicks off in June 2019, aims to grow a pool of “competent and relevant” human resources to accelerate agri-food systems transformation. The project seeks to fill critical identified gaps in terms of knowledge and skills necessary for revitalising agriculture in the region, including in the fields of agribusiness and entrepreneurship, agri-food systems and nutrition, rural innovation and extension, risk management and climate change data, and policy analysis and management. Universities from the six African countries which meet the eligibility criteria and are interested in becoming a Regional Anchor University (RAU) are invited to submit applications in partnership with tertiary education institutions, including post-secondary agricultural vocational institutions and key agricultural sector actors, both public and private. RAUs will be picked through a competitive selection process and will provide agriculture and food related education and training, blended with cross-disciplinary approaches, including “experiential learning” and applied research. The project will also try to foster university linkages with the agricultural sector at regional and national levels, and forge university partnerships with private and public entities in the agriculture sector, both within and outside Africa. “The proposed SHAEA project will support the governments of the participating countries to collectively address challenges in these regional key gap areas, with interventions that include helping selected universities establish a strong culture of collaboration and partnership between higher education institutions, and other tertiary education institutions, with the agriculture sector”, according to an earlier statement. The selected RAUs will become regional hubs for innovation and training and are expected to instigate “real” development impact; and help develop a culture of results-orientation and accountability in institutional management, through a “results-based financing mechanism,” it added. An independent evaluation committee and the steering committee will be constituted to select universities that will act as RAUs. The project will be governed by a regional steering committee that will include representatives of governments from participating countries, and will be managed by a regional facilitation unit based at RUFORUM headquarters in Kampala, Uganda.
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Higher education’s key role in sustainable development (Global)
The United Nations defines sustainable development as “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. As such, sustainable development not only deals with environmental issues, but economic, social and cultural issues as well. Given the increased demands placed on societies and the environment due to, among other factors, increased human migration, increased urbanisation and industrialisation as well as the
ongoing depletion of non-renewable resources, it is clear that global action is needed to create a more sustainable future. Given its primary role as knowledge producer, higher education can serve as a powerful means to help create a more sustainable future. Thus, the concept of ‘education for sustainable development’ has become, in recent years, one of the core educational initiatives to help address many of the problems associated with human development. Indeed, higher education’s role in creating a sustainable future will presumably take on a greater importance as the world continues to become increasingly globalised and interdependent. According to UNESCO, education for sustainable development “empowers people to change the way they think and work towards a sustainable future”. It therefore involves making access to good-quality education available at every stage of life. More specifically, it involves educating students on the necessity of sustainable development by integrating sustainable development issues into all aspects of teaching, research and service. This means reorienting the education system at all levels to help people think and behave in ways that foster a more sustainable planet (for example, global citizenship, recycling, climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy and social responsibility). In practice, it means equipping students with the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to create a sustainable future. To that end, students should cultivate critical and creative thinking skills, engage in authentic interdisciplinary learning activities and develop a value system that emphasises responsibility to self, others and the planet. Thus, education for sustainable development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) go hand in hand. Indeed, an increasing number of universities are offering degree and certificate programmes in sustainable development.
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Grants to help address knowledge gaps in agriculture (RUFORUM/World Bank)

Major universities from six African countries will next year stand a chance to develop regional hubs for agricultural learning with the help of grants worth US$20 million from the World Bank via the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM). The beneficiaries will be selected by the World Bank after a call for proposals is released in September. They will be in Cameroon, Mozambique, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya and the Ivory Coast. The chosen universities will be expected to use the money to address key knowledge gaps in Africa’s agricultural sector, including dealing with climate change, building professional agri-business production and distribution chains, data management and mitigating post-harvest losses. The awards will be one of the biggest grants given to universities through RUFORUM, established by 10 African vice-chancellors in 2004, and now comprising 85 African universities from 36 countries, which is supported by the World Bank and other donors. “The idea is for the universities to model themselves as anchors for the region in order to cause transformation and have a wider impact. That is why the grant is being given to institutions rather than individual researchers,” said Dr Paul Nampala, grants manager at the Kampala-based RUFORUM secretariat. These awards build on RUFORUM’s existing funding procedures through which it has been supporting the training of scientists and innovative agricultural research programmes by giving grants to faculty members in its network. The money is often sourced from charitable foundations and governments. “The aim of the grants is to develop interventions that impact rural development, and universities, if supported, can do impactful research,” said Nampala. Studies show that for agriculture in Africa to grow rapidly and contribute to transformation and development, enhanced capacity in research and development is crucial, he noted. RUFORUM’s current grants are segmented and often range from US$4,000 given to undergraduate students to conduct focused field work (usually under the guidance of a PhD student or a professor), and up to US$350,000 given directly to projects run by senior professors. These projects usually run from anywhere between one to three years.  “In order for a proposal to win, there must be evidence of working as a team. It should also demonstrate a clear engagement with communities,” said Nampala. Nampala said although universities are designed to teach, research and outreach, teaching often attracts the bulk of resources and finance because of African governments’ education investing priorities. RUFORUM grants are designed to fill such gaps. Dr Drake Mirembe, a lecturer in the College of Computing and Information Sciences at Makerere University, Uganda, says knowledge-generating institutions such as universities should not be disassociated from industries within their home countries. “Farming communities need to work with researchers who generate knowledge and institutions that generate the knowledge need to understand the farmers,” said Mirembe.

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eLearning Africa – Where opportunity meets innovation (Africa)

Some of the biggest names in global education and technology will be attending the upcoming eLearning Africa conference – the largest in Africa on learning, training and technology – to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, later this month.  Among those attending the event to be held in the Kigali Convention Centre from 26-28 September are Professor Nii Narku Quaynor, who established some of Africa’s first internet connections; Dr Martin Dougiamas, the founder of the open-source learning platform, Moodle; Elliott Masie, founder of the Masie Center and chair of the Learning Consortium; Dr Bitange Ndemo of the University of Nairobi, Kenya; and Dr Mamphela Ramphele, an academic, anti-apartheid campaigner and entrepreneur from South Africa. They will be among hundreds of experts, converging under the main conference theme of “Uniting Africa” and looking at how technology can break down barriers, enabling Africans to share knowledge, learn and prepare for the future together. According to conference organiser Rebecca Stromeyer, the fourth industrial revolution presents a big opportunity for Africa to leapfrog its competitors.  “We are in a period of major change,” said Stromeyer. “Africa has the advantage of the youngest population on earth. It is full of opportunity and promise. However, in order to seize the opportunity, Africans must come together and ensure that the whole continent is fit for the future. That means sharing knowledge and experience, breaking down barriers to communication, opening up access, supporting diversity and giving all Africans a chance to learn and acquire the skills they need to succeed.” She said the upcoming edition of eLearning Africa will provide a platform to some of the best known authorities on eLearning, along with some of the EdTech industry’s most successful entrepreneurs. They’ll be joined by analysts, technologists, administrators, political decision-makers and investors. “eLearning Africa really is a place where experience meets opportunity and innovation,” she said.

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Kenya Uses Video Conferencing in higher education to meet the demand for Learning (Kenya)

Kenya’s education system is facing the right kind of problem. One of the youngest and fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s experiencing a boom in demand for higher education and needs to modernize. As it stands, there aren’t enough teaching resources to cope with large numbers of young university applicants. In a way, it’s a good problem, one that stems from encouraging socio-economic development and a diversifying economy. And it seems Kenya’s educators are taking the right approach to solving it. They are embracing new methods of teaching, new ways of improving teaching standards, and new ways of tailoring courses to the needs of the economy. Video conferencing in higher education has become one of the key technologies for delivering those improvements, and it could help meet the demand for world-class education. According to an October 2017 report from the World Bank, enrollment in Sub-Saharan higher education courses is growing at a rate near double that of the world average. The region is building on a relatively low base beginning in the 1970s, so the raw numbers aren’t nearly as large as North America or Europe, but the trend is clearly positive. Educartis, an online education platform the operates across Africa, has said the spike in university demand over recent decades has been caused by globalization and a government focus on higher education as a driver of socio-economic growth. It has argued that investment in new technologies like online learning and personalized course structures is needed to meet the demand. That’s a message reflected in the initiatives of Mount Kenya University, a private institution promoting the use of video conferencing and virtual classrooms. The school’s leaders have said virtual learning is the most viable method for meeting the nation’s educational and economic needs.

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