Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture

Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies.  Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs.  This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.

Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies.  Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs.  This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.

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  • Setting Up African-based Graduate Programs

    Undergraduate education is the bread-and-butter of African university education, and the political pressure to open new universities and increase undergraduate enrollment is relentless. African-based graduate programs have been neglected; for instance, as few as 20 Africans a year currently receive doctorates in economics, from both within and outside the continent (including South Africa) (Fine, 1997). There has also been a sharp reduction in the number of scholarships for Africans to study agriculture overseas.

    This explains one reason why the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) was launched in 1988. When the AERC carried out a study of graduate education in economics in Africa, it found that 'graduate training in any meaningful sense appeared to have collapsed in most African universities' because of the 'lack of funds, civil disorder, loss of good staff, deteriorating faculties and equipment, and a massive expansion of undergraduate enrollment' (Fine, 1997).

    Many donors have eliminated or greatly reduced support to overseas graduate training, citing high costs, questionable relevance to Africa's immediate development problems and low returnee rates. The donors have thereby accelerated the transition to graduate training in Africa. Many African educators and donors have called for African-led initiatives to experiment with new models of postgraduate training that will allow African countries to build sustainable linkages to overseas universities at lower cost. Table 6.1 displays the comparative cost of MSc and PhD degrees in various universities around the world.

    Special efforts are needed to shore up the quality of MSc degree programs within Africa because local training has many advantages above overseas training. First, the course work in local degree programs is likely to better prepare students for careers in agricultural extension because the courses are grounded in national agricultural policies and local agro-ecologies, institutions and farming systems. Second, students in local MSc and PhD programs are more likely to focus their research on local and national problems than students in overseas universities. Third, the incremental build-up of the quality of local graduate programs will serve as an insurance policy if a donor discontinues offering scholarships for overseas study. These direct and indirect benefits of local graduate training should be factored into comparative studies of the costs and benefits of local versus regional and overseas training.

    However, the Africanization of graduate education is occurring precisely when the quality of undergraduate education in Africa is declining, due to the rapid proliferation of faculties of agriculture and forestry and a total loss of capacity for some fields (especially agricultural economics and economics) to offer high-quality MSc degree programs. African students pursuing MSc degrees in African universities often take 4-5 years to complete a two-year MSc degree due to problems in finding thesis supervisors who will mentor and nurture the students and read draft manuscripts on schedule as promised.

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