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 major challenge facing African countries now is how to meet the growing demand for tertiary education while simultaneously improving quality and relevance within shrinking public budgets. Demand for the cadre of highly specialized graduates has waned. And the emerging trend - the staged approach of producing 'Boabob' graduates as is currently the practice in Francophone West and Central Africa - is to provide common, post high school training in biological, social and technical sciences, and thereafter allow student participation in the learning process through internships, applied research projects, direct involvement in agricultural production and processing experience in community development.
An important aspect, especially in the research component of training, is to emphasize inter-disciplinary and participatory research approaches that address the problems and opportunities of rural communities and integrate indigenous knowledge with modern science. Scientists, while pressing for greater social recognition and reward, need to be more impact oriented and concerned with the use of their research findings for broader societal gains and the needs, aspirations and priorities of producers, markets and industry rather than settling for the appearance of their research findings in scientific publications.
The universities need to produce graduates (scientists) with strong moral values and ethics, a commitment to social and environmental justice and a capability to develop and implement new ideas and to generate rather than seek employment. Agricultural education needs to move away from mere transfer of information to the development of skills in accessing and applying available knowledge to promoting creativity and leadership with relevant and applied agricultural education programs.
The overall objective of universities in revising and reorienting their agricultural undergraduate curricula should be to produce graduates (scientists) who are able to conceptualize, implement and direct projects with producers; analyze ecological and conventional food production systems; integrate biology humanities, economics and ecology in food systems; use systems approach for complex problems; analyze policies on agriculture and food as they relate to sustainability; and process the right values toward people and the environment. However, such a holistic, interdisciplinary focus must rest on strong disciplinary pillars. Agricultural science will still require disciplinary specialists for the more basic and strategic research aimed at lifting productivity potentials in future. Postgraduate programs will be especially important in this.
Many university students enrolling in agricultural science courses do not have a vocational interest in the profession but are admitted on account of inflexible student selection criteria and admission policies and ability to pay. Significant investments are needed to excite students earlier in their careers about agricultural science and to support older scientists into becoming role models who engage in profitable professional businesses and constructive policy debates/formulation and mentor young scientists and investors. The existence of vibrant professional associations of agricultural scientists is crucial in providing the checks and balances in the profession and at individual level and also in reducing barriers among disciplines and between research and extension.