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.
The pressures described above have led to renewed interest in regional approaches for graduate training. The establishment of regional centers of excellence or regional specializations in undergraduate or graduate programs has been debated for decades, and the experience has been mixed. There are potential efficiencies in assembling a critical mass of specialists in particular academic domains in one location that could serve the graduate training needs of a larger regional watershed. Regional training programs are frequently mentioned as a way to drive down the unit cost of graduate programs, but it is generally recognized that building another new layer of educational institutions can be risky, divisive and expensive. Ideally they should evolve from existing strong national institutions and not be created de novo.
The University of Nairobi launched an MSc program in agricultural economics in 1974 for students from East Africa, with financial assistance from the government of Germany (Thimm, 1992). The two-year program consisted of coursework during the first year and thesis research in the student's home country during the second year. The program flourished during the 1970s, but low salaries, funding constraints and frequent university closures led to the loss of eight staff members with PhDs between 1985 and 1995 from the Agricultural Economics Department in Nairobi. Student numbers fell to three (all Kenyan) in 1997 due to the lack of scholarships. This sobering case study of a 25-year effort (1974-99) to build and sustain an MSc degree program reveals that it may be easy to garner foreign aid to launch a regional MSc program but it is difficult to gain local political and financial support to sustain it decade after decade (Oniangio and Eicher, 1998).
Seasoned observers have made a strong case for self-initiated efforts to build 'regional specializations' in existing universities and then develop networked training programs, instead of creating new regional centers of excellence. As described in Chapter 5, the Study Panel believes that this evolutionary approach to the formation of African centres for agricultural research excellence (ACARE) is the preferred pathway for this institutional innovation. Examples include the newly launched PhD Plant Breeding Program at the University of Natal, the MSc in Agricultural Extension at Makerere University in Uganda, and the MSc in Natural Resource Management at the University of Pretoria, all of which receive some support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Experience suggests however that if these are to succeed they must first have adequate external support for design, launch and fine-tuning, but to be sustained they must generate national or regional resources. They must be intellectually competitive with global training alternatives, have strong buy-in and commitment for regional cooperation from a critical mass of partner universities, and undertake business in a fully transparent and accountable manner.