Two international centres boost agriculture research

Two international centres aimed at boosting research and education in fields of agriculture, and involving universities from America and France, are to be set up in West Africa. One in Ghana will focus on agribusiness and the other in Senegal on adapting agriculture to climate change.

The new Agribusiness Knowledge Center in Ghana will be established by the large agribusiness Africa Atlantic in association with the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Kennedy School.

It will act as a research and training facility to support innovation in agribusiness, protect the environment and develop small farmers as entrepreneurs.

Africa Atlantic will offer land and facilities, MIT will focus on engineering and management sciences, and the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project at Harvard Kennedy School will develop innovative public policy frameworks and strategies.

The first facilities at the Agribusiness Knowledge Center will be built later this year and the centre will serve as a hub for undergraduate and postgraduate students and academics working in fields such as engineering, social science and agronomy.

Topic-driven programmes will be organised including conferences and seminars and the centre will also organise or offer training to 6,000 a year by 2015.

Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation project at Harvard Kennedy School, told University World News: "The status of agribusiness in higher education in Africa reflects the general neglect of agriculture and the relatively low level of investment in business education.

“More specifically, agriculture faculties have historically trained people to work in the public service, not to manage farms. As both agriculture and business in Africa grow, there is need to train young leaders at the intersection of the two."

Juma said the centre will be significant in its location on a private farm. “It will develop using private sector DNA and will be different from its public sector cousins. It also stands out as a role model on how the private sector can play a pivotal role in advancing higher education."

Juma, a Kenyan-born scientist who is also co-chair of the African Union's new High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation, said the centre’s programmes “will be driven by the needs of the firm hosting it.

“In this respect, its curriculum and activities will evolve in response to real needs, not prior educational backgrounds of faculty. This adaptive and dynamic approach will also distinguish it from existing university programmes that rely on fixed curricula.

The centre, Juma continued, will be “one of many examples of Africa’s efforts to align higher education with agricultural development needs. It is not a substitute for other higher education approaches.”

The Senegal lab

At the same time, an international laboratory aimed at adapting agriculture to climate change and restoring ecosystems is being set up by four Senegalese institutions and the French Development Research Institute (IRD).

LAPSE, the Laboratoire Mixte International d’Adaptation de l’Agriculture aux Changements Climatiques et à la Réhabilitation des Écosystèmes, is a partnership between University Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), the universities of Thiès and Saint-Louis, and the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research in partnership with the IRD, reported Le Soleil of Dakar.

The aim of the laboratory, which was established at a conference held at UCAD in February, is to contribute to adapting agriculture in the Sahel zone to future environmental challenges and to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems, said Le Soleil.

The laboratory plans to carry out research on adaptation of plants and beneficial symbiotic soil-based micro-organisms, train young researchers in the sub-region and promote research for civil society.

UCAD authorities said the laboratory was in line “with the attention being paid to making agriculture and agribusiness a priority” in education and research, reported Le Soleil.

Headed jointly by Professor Ibrahima Ndoye of the department of plant biology at UCAD and Dr Laurent Laplaze, research director of the IRD, LAPSE should enable the sharing of material and human resources, and will create four high-level technological facilities: in cellular biology, plant molecular genetics, functional genomics and microbiology.