Knowledge failures: One of the major hurdles facing ACP countries is making the transition to a more knowledge intensive agriculture and addressing the challenge of knowledge failures. ACP agricultural research is currently not delivering the type of knowledge needed by end-users especially farmers in rural communities, generally because traditional and indigenous knowledge have not been taken on board. New systems of knowledge creation and diffusion that take into consideration the needs and experiences of the client are required and tertiary agricultural institutions must be at the forefront of the change process. Paying more attention to a regionally-focused, demand-driven approach to tertiary agricultural education is recommended. A major driving force here will be equipping graduates with the capability to respond to changing paradigms for example, identifying and or developing responses to the effects of climate change on agriculture.
Re-training University Staff: Future training and education in agriculture at the tertiary level has to be accessible, of good quality, relevant, and cost-effective. To achieve this, students and professors would have to work more closely with farmers, other agro-entrepreneurs and policymakers on problems impacting on agriculture and the rural landscape. This does not exclude pursuing blue print science to provide a thrust into the future. Faculties will have to be re-tooled, curricula revisited and administrators will have to expand their mandates to include a more commercial approach to mobilize funding so that students can benefit from the quality environment and receive the education and skills training that are urgently needed.
Re-tooling rural farmers: Agriculture in the ACP region is predominantly rural and remains in the hands of an ageing population and poorly trained women and youth. A matter of concern is how to attract and retain youth and young professionals to complement the efforts of the ageing rural population. What are the basic characteristics of this rural farming population in terms of age and gender and agricultural productivity? What competencies are necessary for people engaged in or likely to be engaged in agricultural production, processing and marketing in the future? What are the implications of these characteristics and competencies with respect to who is targeted and what is taught in the tertiary institutions? The lack of understanding of the complexities of rural space - rural and agricultural life contributes to higher education faculties being improperly prepared or relying on outdated curricula, material and training approaches. Working on better understanding these aspects of agriculture and rural life and the changing urban environment may contribute to repositioning ACP agriculture and contributing to economic sustainability given the dynamism in the market place and changing food preferences and demographics.
Changing food needs and preferences: The ACP community needs to look beyond the traditional crop and livestock sectors and production systems and explore new product opportunities. For example, according to FAO (2006) traditional fisheries resources are slowly declining while aquaculture output has doubled within the last ten years. With worldwide demand for fish projected to increase 70% in the next 35 years, aquaculture productivity will need to produce seven times as much as it generates now to meet global demand by 2025. Consumer demand for affordable food is rising and consumers’ preferences are continuously changing. Responding to these challenges while addressing ecosystems sustainability will require new training approaches, thinking and innovations in agriculture.
Agricultural markets: All countries are undergoing market transformation, and the transition is taking place very rapidly at the levels of retail, processing, food service and wholesale. Efforts to enhance and strengthen the ACP presence in non-traditional and high value food markets can be pursued through investments in productivity and innovation. Tertiary institutions in agriculture will be required to train individuals who understand the market dynamics; trends, drivers and shocks and respond to them through training and advocacy.
Biodiversity and scientific advances: The expanding role of biosciences in development illustrates the need to build scientific and technical competencies in areas such as functional genomics and bioinformatics to help close the enormous disparities with regard to scientific knowledge, skills and technologies that currently divide ACP countries from the rest of the world. This will be accomplished by improving the institutional frameworks in which the scientific investigations are undertaken as well as building the required human scientific capacity. Among the improved competencies required is greater capacity for managing intellectual property.
Energy supply: The emerging role of agricultural commodities including forest products as a source of green energy suggests that energy will be a new driver and implies the need for cross fertilization of ideas and networking farmers with policymakers, researchers and engineers among others. The need to address knowledge gaps and learning processes becomes critical and the role of universities even more central to the process in creating lateral thinkers.
Trade and competition: Increased trade liberalization results in increased competition, and to be competitive in the world market, countries must invest in research and development that can lead to increased productivity through technological advancements. Advances in biotechnology, information and communication technologies and nanotechnology are prominent among current and future technological options for improving agricultural productivity although ethical issues on biotechnology and nanotechnology continue to be debated. Tertiary institutions need to speed up the pace at which they embrace these developments and respond by ensuring that centres of excellence are quickly identified and collaborations established with advanced centres in the north and south to provide leadership in their communities and countries.
Collaborating, strategizing and funding
Linkages: No country in the world has achieved economic growth without developing the science and technology capacity and agricultural research and training is no exception. This requires a vibrant, dynamic, well-networked agricultural higher education system that is linked with the farming community, private sector, national agricultural research organizations, international agricultural research centres, NGOs and higher education institutions in other countries. By improving such linkages, faculty and staff are better able to identify science and technology needs that are relevant to their own country’s context. These linkages must extend even beyond the scientific-institutional stage, and should include linking ministries of education with ministries of agriculture, finance, health and international agencies.
‘Work ready’ graduates: There is an increasing pressure for university graduates to be ‘work ready’, and to have work experience at graduation. Consequently, changes in the application of knowledge include enhancing the link between knowledge and wealth creation, as companies recognise that marketable knowledge is the ultimate organizational capability, and they appreciate the growing influence of information technology on productivity enhancement through knowledge acquisition and management, independent of physical location (Johnston, 1998). With so much agricultural information being readily accessible, especially in electronic form, tertiary agricultural education institutions must equip their students with the expertise to locate, retrieve, decode and appraise the information and apply the knowledge. In the information age, graduates must have research skills which enable them to become familiar with new and emerging fields and respond to changes in the underlying base of knowledge within their specific discipline.
Strategic Policy and Funding: The impact of the changes that ACP agriculture is confronted with in the next decade and beyond requires the elaboration of a strategic policy for ACP tertiary agricultural education. This will entail evolving an enduring funding mechanism. Presently most of the funds for tertiary agricultural education come from national governments with little participation of the private sector. Most external support has been directed in particular at masters and doctoral programmes. Even though there have been increasing complaints about the quality of candidates for these programmes, little has been done to redress the falling quality of BSc teaching (Jones, 2005). With dwindling government funding, tertiary agricultural education within the ACP regions will come under increasing pressure to source more of their budget from private and other external sources on a competitive basis. The ability to drive this process and the skills to achieve the funding targets suggest that ACP tertiary education institutions must develop the credibility if they are to engage with the national and international funding agencies to attract additional funding in the very near future.
Professor Michael Madukwe is Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Nigeria.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (2006). State of World Aquaculture.
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Johnston, R (1998). The Changing Nature of Knowledge: A Review. EIP report. Canberra: DETYA
Jones, M (2006). An Agricultural Research Perspective on poverty, innovation policies and agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. Paper Presented at the EGDI Policy, Poverty and Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa Workshop, 8-9 March 2006, Frösundavik, Sweden.
UN Millennium Project (2005). Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development. Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation, Earthscan, London, U.K.