Enhancing Collaboration and Quality in Postgraduate Training: Joint Module Training Delivery in RUFORUM Regional Programmes


In its efforts to strengthen the quality of post graduate training programmes and partnerships, RUFORUM and the member universities are using a combination of innovative approaches in the curriculum design and delivery of the regional postgraduate training programmes. A case is the RUFORUM multidisciplinary PhD programme in Agriculture Rural Innovation (ARI) which is hosted simultaneously by three RUFORUM member universities (Makerere University- Uganda, Egerton University – Kenya and Sokoine University of Agriculture – Tanzania) using same curriculum and content. The PhD ARI Program is implemented in collaboration with three other European universities namely Montpellier Sup Agro in France, Wagenigen University in the Netherlands and University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

With financial support from Carnegie Cooperation of New York, RUFORUM supported the joint implementation of field based module on Participatory Methods and Action Research for innovation in livelihoods and agricultural systems offered under the  PhD Agricultural and Rural Innovations (ARI). This module is unique in delivery as it brings together students from the three universities in Africa and three universities in Europe to a Common facility.  This year’s field training took place in Rakai District in Uganda. A total of 18 students and five academic staff from the consortium spent two weeks in the field to learn together with farming communities. The students were from Africa (DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda); Europe (France and Spain); and Latin America (Guatemala). Female participants represented 31.6%. The diversity of students and staff was a learning resource that enabled substantial cross learning and complementarity of skills.

Above: PhD students in Rakai Working with Communities

Above: PhD students in Rakai Working with Communities

The joint module provides valuable insights on how scientists could engage with communities to undertake research for development. This gives opportunities to students to rethink and nest their research into development challenges of communities as well as apply some of the tools learnt in their own research.

Below there is an anecdotal testimony from one of the students of the field module: “The course offers a different approach to research diversity such as agro-ecological zonation, farm strategy model, and innovation histories as an alternative to statistical representativeness. The most exciting are the hands-on tools and combined approaches such as the use of GPS, GIS, Innovation Histories and Trends which we used to comprehensively understand the communities and their livelihood dynamics. At the end of the course we had an exciting feedback session to provide insights on possible innovative solutions for improving livelihood of these communities. It was good to note the keen interest of the NGOs and policy makers working in the area to take on the suggestions and implement them. I also appreciated an opportunity for co-learning, experience sharing, and team work with fellow classmates from various countries and cultures”.  Mrs. Dorcas Loga Okello

A number of spillover effects have emerged for this arrangement which include; opportunities for joint supervisor of the students by European and African staff hence sustaining partnerships, cross cultural learning, assured consistent quality of the ARI brand (student) across the participating universities. Click here to read more.

Seasonal Greetings from RUFORUM


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Partnership to transform agricultural education


By Munyaradzi Makoni, University World News

A ground-breaking partnership between the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and The MasterCard Foundation is aiming to strengthen efforts to revamp the agriculture curriculum across Africa.

It is seeking to transform agriculture into a vibrant sector linked to African universities that can produce high-performing graduates and high-quality research.

The eight-year programme backed with US$27.1 million from The MasterCard Foundation was launched during the Fifth African Higher Education Week and the RUFORUM Biennial Conference held from 17-21 October at the Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town, South Africa.

Aligned to the anticipated boost in agriculture, the meeting, attended by vice-chancellors from more than 60 universities in Africa, among the 700 delegates, had as its theme, “Linking agricultural universities with the civil society, the private sector, governments and other stakeholders in support of agricultural development”.

New agriculture model

“This is an exciting opportunity for RUFORUM to strengthen agriculture in Africa, by connecting to empower all players, learning institutions, agriculture communities and the private sector to connect knowledge needed to boost the sector,” Peter Materu, director, education and learning, The MasterCard Foundation, told University World News.

There has been a lot of knowledge that has not been connected for the benefit of society, said Materu, adding that smallholder farmers will be the main feature of this programme as they have often been left out in the past. Also, rising food demands make urban agriculture even more necessary.

A new agriculture curriculum for universities was critical in absorbing and feeding the burgeoning youthful population across the continent, he said.

There were a lot of young people between 15 and 24 years of age in Africa, a figure expected to double by 2050, pushing the demand for jobs and food even higher. The most affected were typically the poor youth, he said. At a time when urban migration and youth poverty in urban centres are increasing because economies in countries are not growing, agriculture could be a solution to the problem.

“There is a need to do more to increase the productivity of agriculture and the universities have a role to play,” said Materu, adding that connecting university education to the needs of the agriculture communities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development was never more relevant than now.

The curriculum will have to be tailored to meet these needs, he said, and a lot of knowledge exists on how communities, universities and industry can best interact, but much of the knowledge is not fully utilised on how these groups can work together to strengthen agriculture.

RUFORUM has a network that supports some universities and it will reach many more universities and also attract other institutions, said Materu.

“We anticipate that RUFORUM will be open to knowledge from institutions in the world that have been working with communities in agriculture so that we can fast-track this training,” he said.

The practical component will be stronger in the programme as students will have the opportunity to work with farmers in the community, Materu added. “Studying and working in an environment in which the farmers work will help famers to improve,” he said.

Recruitment of students

Dr Anthony Egeru, Regional Coordinator of The MasterCard Foundation and RUFORUM project, said the recruitment of students with a passion for agriculture starts in December and selected students will go through orientation for a month in June-July before university starts.

A total of 210 students, 110 undergraduates and 110 postgraduates, who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be trained. 70% of recruits will come from countries where early adopter universities of the new model are based and 30% are expected to come from countries that are in difficult circumstances.

“They will strive for gender equity, with 60% of women being recruited,” Materu said.

Gulu University in Uganda and Egerton University in Kenya have been named the early adopters of the programme.

“These universities have already been collecting information and researching the needs of farming communities and educating students while they work with farmers, which made them a leading choice to run the pilot,” said Egeru.

Yet another opportunity for transformative action research will come from using the expanded RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme, or CARP, to enrich university-led community impact. CARP will extend to include technical and vocational education and training institutions to improve joint work between colleges and universities.

Transformation through internationalisation

The initial focus of the programme is not about internationalisation of higher education but making sure African universities have greater focus on meaningful contribution to development, said Egeru.

But internationalisation will occur through the knowledge transfer process as the programmes developed by Gulu and Egerton universities scale up, he explained.

To enrich the programme, partnerships will be forged with various global institutions that are running advanced programmes similar to those under discussion, such as Earth University in Costa Rica, Entrepreneurship for Impact Foundation based in Italy and Harvard University.

“So parts of the programme will begin to internationalise even if it is just for the content of one course,” Egeru said, adding that the idea is to ensure that students will benefit from leadership training that will make them the next generation of agricultural leaders.

He said the key component of entrepreneurship will be strengthened in universities, through a competitive entrepreneurship challenge fund, and this will be done in a way that allows students to write and test their business proposals.

“The students will not only become thought leaders, they will become part of the key component on entrepreneurship which will extend to universities through the entrepreneurship challenge fund, which will catalyse entrepreneurship training in universities,” Egeru told University World News.

The fund will cater for learning experiences that simulate a real business environment and so students will learn about issues such as how to pay tax and the ethics of doing business.

He added that a portion of the US$27.1 million will be open to other universities through a challenge fund to offer the same type of training.

The MasterCard Foundation has invested US$300 million in agriculture-related programmes across Africa, as RUFORUM positions itself to share best practices in Africa. Materu said: “We in the Foundation take agriculture seriously as it has the potential to secure jobs for the young and secure livelihoods for the future.”

This article has been sourced from http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20161026142339345

Testimony of career opportunities for young scholars in agricultural sciences


By Lijalem Gebrewahid, PhD Student at Mekelle University

lijalemI was born and raised in Shire-Endaslassie, a town in the  Tigrai Region of Northern Ethiopia. My love for agriculture must have been borne out of my experience of growing and caring for plants in the backyard of our home during my childhood. After completing high school, I went on to study a Diploma in Plant Sciences at Jimma University, Ethiopia. Thereafter, I served as a Research Assistant at the Tigrai Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) for three years before joining

Mekelle University in 2004 in the same position. Being a staff at the university accorded me the opportunity to advance in my career and, in 2009, I successfully completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from Mekelle University.

The next year, I got a scholarship from the Regional Universities Forum lijalem1for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) to enroll for a Master of Science degree in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems at Makerere University in Uganda. I was delighted to be admitted at Makerere University because it is one of the top ranked universities in Africa. During the course of my masters training and research, I met great people and made lasting friendships with professional peers.  Initially, I had anticipated a great challenge in completing the course, but the load become easier with institutional support as well as support from my peers and supervisors. By the time of completion, the program was less intense than I had earlier anticipated.

I was glad to have the opportunity to undertake the research component of my MSc back in my home country. This accorded me more time with my family as well as the faculty staff at Mekelle University who served as co-supervisors with the team at Makerere University. The exposure to studying outside my home country as well as joint supervision by both faculty at Makerere University and Mekelle University made me appreciate my journey from a diploma certificate to a postgraduate degree. My MSc thesis focused on evaluation of certain barley core collections for stability in terms of earliness, scald disease resistance, and yield performance  in central and northern part of Ethiopia. The study demonstrated that genotypes by environment interactions can be minimized through selection of widely adapted genotypes. This is important for plant breeding programmes focusing on barley and other related crops.

The training exposure at Makerere University energized me to look for opportunities for further studies. Fortunately, I was lucky to merit another RUFORUM scholarship, this time under the Community Action Research Program (CARP), to study for a PhD in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems at Mekelle University.

lijalem2Currently, I am part of a research team working on the RUFORUM-funded project “Enhancing wheat value chain through participatory action research in Northern Ethiopia” Project (RU 2014 CARP 05) of which my PhD research is a component. Led by the Principal Investigator, Assoc. Prof. Dereje Abera Assefa, the research team is focusing on improving yield and yield stability of superior quality wheat, particularly under stress and future climate change conditions. Our overall target is to minimize dependence on local and obsolete varieties through use of improved high yielding varieties to enhance production and productivity of wheat in turbulent environments.

Involvement of farmers in evaluation and selection of wheat varieties helps researchers to have deeper understanding about the existing situations and vice versa. As a result, the right measures can be can be taken to tackle challenges in a relatively shorter time. This participatory approach has enhanced the university’s engagement with the community and promoted ownership of the research agenda by farmers. The team firmly believes that this approach, among other factors, will also facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technologies to other farmers along the wheat value chain.

So far, data for one season has been collected and analyzed, a Farmers Day has been organized, and stakeholders from various sectors including model farmers, Bureau of Agriculture, Tigrai Agricultural Research Institute, researchers from Mekelle University, factory representatives and administrative people have observed the trial sites.

lijalem3lijalem4During the Field Day, a farmers’ research group from Atsela, one of the research sites, welcomed participants, by holding up the motto “From bread in GTP1 to pasta in GTP2”. This was an expression of their wish to have a good life during the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP2) set by the government and perhaps also a reminder to us, the research team, of the impact that we are trying to achieve. I look forward to completing my PhD which will no doubt equip me to make more significant contributions to crop improvement for food security in Africa and perhaps help bring to reality the aspirations of our farmers.

I am greatly indebted to RUFORUM for the financial support for my MSc and PhD studies. I have attained knowledge in plant breeding that is very relevant to my country and I see opportunities to put this knowledge into use for the benefit of smallholder households and farming systems in general.  I would also like to take this opportunity to appreciate my mentors, particularly Professor Paul Gibson, undoubtedly one of Makerere University’s most valuable assets. As an MSc student in his class, I was not only impressed by his expert knowledge, but also by his profound teaching style and readiness to help students even outside class hours.

The RUFORUM Network promotes inter-university collaboration to facilitate quality graduate research and training. This testimony, one among many others, presents evidence of collaboration between members of the Network (Makerere University and Mekelle University) to co-supervise and train proactive graduate students.

Contact the author by email at: lijalemgebrewahid@gmail.com

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