The Age of Rural Transformation: ARU and URDT leadership attend the 6th African Green Revolution For
That’s what URDT and ARU representatives sought to answer at the 6th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Nairobi, Kenya, this past September. Vice Chancellor of African Rural University Dr. Joseph Mukiibi, URDT Co-founder and CEO Dr. Mwalimu Musheshe, and distinguished URDT alumnus Mr. Charles Kisembo Goodyear attended the forum this year. Dr. Mukiibi shared highlights from the conference and what the future of African agriculture means for ARU.
The central theme of the 6th African Green Revolution Forum 2016 was “Seize the Moment: Securing Africa’s Rise through Agricultural Transformation”. It was about transformation of Africa’s farmers, who make up more than 80 percent of the rural population. It was clearly pertinent to the central mission of ARU and URDT.
It was therefore natural, fitting and mandatory for the ARU Founder, the ARU Vice Chancellor and a distinguished URDT Alumnus to attend this momentous event.
The Forum focused on three key lessons:
1. Agriculture is central to rural transformation.
80% of Ugandans live in rural areas, and farming is the main economic activity of more than 90% of rural people. Therefore it is necessary for rural transformation programs to target agriculture. URDT is already active in this area with programmes at the Girls’ Schools and activities outlined in the Epicentre Strategy. The deliberations at AGRF 2016 convinced me more than ever before that ARU must design its teaching and research programmes with agriculture as the central theme.
2. Agriculture is more than just crop and animal production.
Agriculture is about the whole food value chain, not just crop and animal husbandry. As we design ARU programmes, it is important to realise that there are tremendous opportunities for creating jobs and for innovations along the entire value chain, from production to processing and handling, from distribution to retailing. This situation in turn provides ARU with tremendous opportunities for research, training and innovation.
3. Building the capacity of Africa’s smallholder farmers (SHF) is necessary to de-risk farming as a business.
In the last 50 years, much emphasis has been placed on training agricultural extension specialists, agronomists, veterinarians, as well as community development leaders targeting assistance to small-holder farmers. While numeracy and literacy programmes aimed at farmers (who are often school drop-outs) have been strong, programmes for training farming in business have been weak and intermittent. This is a gap in services that ARU can and should fill. Farming must become professionalized in order for rural transformation to take place.
Farming is a risky business all over the world because of the unpredictability of nature and economic volatility. In the developed world there are policies for de-risking agriculture such as the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe and the generous agricultural subsidy programmes in North America even though farmers constitute less than 5 percent of the working population in these regions. There are no such programmes for small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. ARU by itself cannot de-risk farmers entirely, but it can play an advocacy role.
These issues were not new to me. However, the almost unanimous acceptance of these ideas as key in the transformation of Small Holder Agriculture was particularly significant to me. It also gives way to new directions not only in agricultural education and training, especially for African farmers, but also to programs in rural development as a whole, within the ARU framework.
AGRF 2016 gave me a lot of food for thought in planning the future course of ARU. Working with ARU stakeholders, I will carry out my ideas with these lessons in mind to chart an academic trajectory for ARU.
I would like to express my gratitude to African Food and Peace Foundation and the Schooner Foundation, who made participation in the forum possible.