African universities need more support


African universities expect the resolutions taken at the United Nations Food Systems Summit on September 23 to increase the capacity of institutions to effectively contribute to ending hunger and enhancing food security for the peoples of the continent.

They hope that some of the points that will be highlighted at the end of the summit (UNFSS) will lead governments and other actors to recognize and support the role that universities and the research community play in ensuring adequate and nutritious food for all.

They can do this by pushing governments to commit to increasing funding for research and development (R&D) and raising financial support for the higher education sector, said Professor Adipala Ekwamu, Executive Secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), which led an 18-month Africa-wide pre-summit dialogue process.

“We expect general statements on a range of issues at the summit, but what is most important is what happens after the summit at the African Union (AU) level. We expect universities to receive more support to build their research capacity so that they can educate governments on what needs to be done to strengthen our food systems, ”he said.

In addition, actions were expected to be instituted to strengthen the links between universities and policy makers, recognizing that institutions, through research, development and human capital training, were essential for the development of agriculture. . As such, researchers must be part of policy formulation, he stressed.

The role of the African Union

The AU should ensure that governments meet their commitment to allocate 1% of their gross domestic product each year to R&D, and ensure that the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) be implemented. The document seeks to anchor science, technology and innovation as key catalysts for achieving Africa’s development goals.

“Even though we have many weak economies in Africa and many competing demands for available resources, we should learn to invest in the areas that give the best returns. In this case, research and development and training have been shown to yield good returns on investment, ”said Ekwamu. News from academia.

For their part, universities should strive to deliver “scalable” and “impactful” innovations aimed at transforming communities. While they are at it, they need to listen to people, including their concerns about the way they do things, Ekwamu added.

Kay Muir-Leresche, retired professor of natural resource economics and member of RUFORUM’s international advisory group, said the summit should set out a commitment to invest in building skills and relevant information at the local level to harness the potential of Africa not only to address the food crisis, but to improve progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to achieve the aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063.

Africa, with its very low productivity and high underemployment, has the potential to become the global food basket and could use new technologies to overcome some of the infrastructural constraints it faces, she said.

“But, to take advantage of these innovations, systematic upgrading and investment in African universities is needed,” Muir-Leresche said.

She expressed concern that the meeting’s agenda would remain that of “big economies and that the proposed systems do not take into account voices coming from Africa”.

“Many dialogues took place across Africa and the ministers concerned reflected on some of the main issues highlighted. But it is not clear that a real commitment to address the long-term issues of supporting food system transformation will focus on African universities with real transparency, through strengthening African research and research systems. education, ”said Muir-Leresche.

She noted that countries such as South Korea have shown how “hub” universities help improve agricultural productivity when universities are integrated into the national innovation framework.

“We need to make sure that African universities are able to play this role – and we need to make sure that universities are able to represent the voices of the most marginalized in their societies,” she added.

Pre-summit dialogues

While one day of the summit will not be enough to cover everything, it is possible to use the ideas generated during the 18-month pre-summit dialogue process.

The dialogues facilitated by RUFORUM, for example, have made it possible to bring together actors who were not previously connected, which must be strengthened.

Investing in skills development and research remains the most important condition for Africa to benefit from its youth dividend, its underutilized natural resources and new technologies.

However, this will not happen unless there are massive investments in ‘skills upgrading’ and the establishment of locally relevant ‘information generation systems’ and innovation, Muir-Leresche observed.

Universities and research institutes in Africa have not been at the forefront of innovation, noted the professor emeritus. On the other hand, governments have failed to make universities the “hub of innovation and providers of evidence for policy”.

“Many universities in Africa did not transform into more than institutes dedicated to training civil servants – their original mandate in colonial times – and they often remained in ivory towers.

“They haven’t established systems to recognize the catalytic role they can play in their national economies. Universities often see their teaching and research in separate pillars and rarely see them as part of society, ”she added.

“No one is left behind”

The UNFSS summit was billed as a grassroots summit that will articulate bold new actions under the mantra of nobody left out and, as such, equitable consideration of food security issues was expected, said Dr Florence Nakayiwa, Deputy Executive Secretary for Planning Resource Mobilization and Management at RUFORUM.

The UN, she observed, operates through a bureaucratic process, and decisions are cascaded.

“We have made our contribution on different fronts, through national dialogues, independent dialogues and through the Scientific Panel. We believe that through these channels our contribution will be reflected in the final resolutions, ”she said.

In Africa, Nakayiwa noted, discussions had taken place within the framework of the Common African Position and academic political dialogues, from institutions to the summit of heads of state and are likely, as such, to be part voices that contribute to final resolutions.

The summit, she said, is not an event but a process and the one to be held on September 23 is only a milestone, to be used to “pose” problems that will be operationalized by different actors.

Summits are about approving general agreements, not revising them and making major changes. As such, the meeting’s communiqué should capture the aspirations of the 18-month process, said Dr Patrick Okori, senior scientist at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

While providing perspectives was a duty that African universities had to fulfill, it is the duty of Africa and its development partners to give them due consideration, he noted.

“No nation or people has ever developed beyond the quality of science and human resources at their disposal,” he said.

“New investment systems for research and training, similar to the Marshall Plan, which will strengthen Africa’s capacity to generate innovations and implement them at an appropriate scale and scope are imperative”, a- he added.

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