National agricultural research systems (NARS) in African countries have evolved since independence was gained in the 1960s (Hazell et al., 2003). Structural adjustment in the 1980s and partnerships with institutions in the North and the South have guided further development. More recently, the NARS concept was expanded to the agricultural knowledge and information system (AKIS) and subsequently the agricultural innovations system (AIS) concepts (Table 1). Many African institutions have grappled with the change processes necessitated by this evolution and incentivised by much-needed funding support (Lynam et al., 2004). The guiding principles influencing research funding were often crafted at a global level, with an assumption of relevance or adaptability for all African NARS.
AGRINATURA is a grouping of European universities and research organizations with a common interest in supporting sustainable agricultural development. It is a member of the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development (EFARD), which represents the European constituency in the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR). EFARD is analogous to the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). AGRINATURA believes that research and higher education will underpin the innovations needed to increase agricultural production, productivity and sustainability to feed rapidly expanding populations and help protect the natural resource base for future generations.
In this feature article, Adipala Ekwamu, Malcolm Blackie and Joyce Lewinger Moock focus on the experiences of an African-led and -managed organization, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Africa (RUFORUM), which aims to capture regional economies of scope and scale, to support innovative curriculum design, fill crucial gaps in the availability of postgraduate degrees, and ensure a quality standard for courses. RUFORUM, through its innovative programmes in its member university system and its established regional convening power is an effective advocate for transformation of tertiary agricultural science training and research. Currently, Africa records the lowest numbers of PhDs per 1000 inhabitants and the lowest contribution to global knowledge resources (∼2%). The recent surge of renewed interest in the agricultural sector as an engine of economic growth in Africa has resulted in many new initiatives and the strengthening of ongoing programmes that have been identified as successful. Operating in 18 countries, RUFORUM has a mandate to oversee graduate training and specialized networks in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) countries. Under the guidance of senior African professionals, RUFORUM has grown from a crop-based network of 10 agricultural faculties into a regional broad-based consortium of 32 universities in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. RUFORUM assumes that development is more likely to occur where there is an active, well-informed critical mass of locally based agricultural professionals to conduct relevant research. Another assumption is that the results of such research are more likely to be applied by strengthening a demand-driven research agenda – via linkages to smallholder farmers, small- and medium-sized agro-based enterprises post the farm gate, community organizations and policy makers to ensure the relevance and impact of such research, and by matching training and education to the potential job market.In 2014–2018, RUFORUM will strengthen and scale its core activities, while stepping up its representational role for higher education.