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3rd RUFORUM Biennial Conference – strengthening RUFORUM action!

The 3rd RUFORUM Biennial Conference was held, last September, 24-28, 2012, in Entebbe, Uganda. The objective of this meeting was to exchange findings and experiences, and indentify lessons learned in order to improve performance of the agricultural sector. Discussions turned around strengthening Science and Technology capacity in Africa, strengthening value chains and innovation platform, and engaging African Youth in Rural Transformation. Examples from Universities in Africa, Brazil, China and India were presented and ways to work together were explored. Thorough reflections were conducted on outcomes of RUFORUM intervention, emerging lessons and questions. Graduate students themselves had discussions about their experience with RUFORUM in order to identify ways to enhance the programmes. CTA organized a number of side events related to women in science and young professionals, Information and Knowledge for development (Ink4DEV). One of the major focus was on collaborative and coordinated actions for agricultural innovation. Simon Carter from IDRC for the African region, focused on agricultural development perspectives and the role for higher education. He stressed the need of preparing students to work within multi-disciplinary teams. Focus should be on training people to build resilient agricultural systems, train and reward people to work collaboratively, build the capacity to learn from mistakes, build trust in institutions and institutions that bring trust, and educate people to foster rural innovation systems. RUFORUM has proved to open higher education to support Africa’s development. Innovation, applied strategies and applied solutions to complex development issues are specific competencies of RUFORUM in linking high education and development. They also have particular relationships with national policy and want to strengthen their national fora and their advocacy role. The challenge is now to scale-up success, enhancing networking and strengthening operations and trusts. Focus on value chain approaches was brought as a key factor towards this direction. Supportive culture for information sharing was also stressed as required as well as a challenge sometimes among scientists. Engaging youth was particularly supported by the strong presence and commitment of the youth at the conference. Learn more on YPARD blog post: engaging youth in rural transformation.   Special Highlight: CARP - The RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme The RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme is a programme to link African universities to communities and agribusiness (CARP). This was motivated by an identified need in focusing more on youth and agribusiness rather than research writing, methods and tools only. CARP aims to get the staff and students into the field and ensure that they are learning sufficiently from their engagements. The programme is based on a strategic partnership with Wageningen Universiy, ICRA and EARTH University. This partnership enhances analyses for integrating experiential learning, development skills, training etc. EARTH university particularly builds confidence to do things in the real world. CARP pilot initiatives are currently conducted in Malawi, Uganda and Kenya.   Recommendations made to RUFORUM African universities need to be more competitive: through quality and by reinforcing their niche. They need to be part of social development. Strengthening the internationalization of their agenda would enhance cross learning and global competitiveness. Furthermore, networking enables to have a shared platform for advocacy and mutual support. China, Brazil and India showed a strong support from the government. Platform that fall under government internationalization agenda might attract governmental support.  Strengthening value chains and platforms necessits closer relationship between research, farmers and private sectors. For each level of the value chain (from plot to plate, going through producers, processors, traders and consumers), universities have roles and research concerns.” Example: Producer level: pest and disease control, soil, water and nutrient management etc; processor level: prolonged shelf life, preservation of nutritive value etc; traders; market analysis, identification and access; consumers: nutrition, quality and safety, policy etc. We need to increase interaction with value chain actors and conduct more applied researches. Experiential learning through farm trials was emphasized as a key success factor. This would also enable scaling-up of the successes. Youth engagement requires to embrace coaching, mentorship, role modeling in order to drawing and retaining youth in farms. Sharing of success stories and case studies generates inspiration to join farming activities. Youth needs to be recognized as key stakeholders in revamping agriculture for ensuring their full commitment. No more of “What is this young man doing here?!” The definition of “youth” might need to be harmonized so as to know who to target.  Meanwhile, we need to identify what should be done to ensure that farming benefits go to farmers and not to middlemen, which is a concern expressed by the youth. Enhancing value chain mechanism may be one of the answers. RUFORUM students raised that curricula were outdated and didn’t grasp the changes over the years. The solution brought was to involve different stakeholders. They expressed the need of practice, need of mentorship, need of a higher number of females lecturers well prepared to get the right attitude and skills for mentorship and training. Commitment of lecturers that too often are seen as “tourists” is critical. Lecturers should sign performance contracts and get proper remuneration. There should also be more linkages with advanced researches and institutions, a stronger dissemination of the findings, more outreach for better income, soft skills and scaling up. University of Minnesota shared a good example of how they changed to suit contextual changes. Funding and students are decreasing, concerns about environment and food systems are increasing, workforce is changing, demography is changing. They changed their programme in agriculture with a diversity of topics: nutrition, animal sciences, environment sciences, applied economy and business, food security etc. Point is: University needs to change. Students need to learn soft skills, leadership, management, mentorship, include universities in wider innovations systems. Some presentations focused on experiential learning : linking theory and practice, shifting from outreach to engagement . Soft skills such as self confidence, enthusiasm, political literacy are required by employees. Group learning, through discussions, reflections, and social inclusion (personal skills) enhance these. I unfortunately missed the last sessions on way forward and future actions of the RUFUROM conference. I openly call for feedback on presentations on e-capacities for agricultural development in Africa, multi-stakeholder partnership: how can African Universities better engage and TEAM Africa! Please, if you attended, let us know more by posting a comment or writing a blog post!