Discussions reflect on universities’ role in resilient food systems

Universities in Africa will use the ongoing United Nations food systems summit process to make their contribution towards attainment of food security on the continent, and to showcase their expertise.

They will also use various forums provided by the Food Systems Summit 2021 process to demonstrate to African leadership and the world what they could achieve for the agriculture sector if ‘better supported’.

The institutions will participate at country, regional and continental levels of the summit which culminates with a global gathering in October to make their voice heard, said Ekwamu Adipala Executive Secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

“Experience in Asia and Latin America has taught us that the use of science human capital helped them build resilient food systems. That is why, as African universities, we are keen to play our role in this UN process,” said Adipala.

“This reality also means that we in Africa are not going to be exceptional. We must embrace and be guided by strong research and also produce the right human capital to achieve food security,” he added.

RUFORUM takes the lead

Universities that are members of RUFORUM —129 spread across 38 African countries — will participate in the UN initiative beginning at country level. They will take part in national dialogues and examine the roles they need to play in overall strengthening of food systems, Adipala noted.

The institutions will engage other national actors and help their governments come up with a position on actions desired to reverse the worsening food situation in Africa, added Adipala, who is one of the 100 food systems champions to mobilise voices in support of the initiative.

Discussions will afterwards take place at a regional level with one such an event, Eastern and Southern Africa Pre-UN Food System Dialogue, taking place on 17 May, hosted by RUFORUM.

Some of the speakers at the forum include vice-chancellors, deans of agriculture faculties and heads of research institutions, as well as scholars.

The universities consortium will later hold a continental forum, on which they will share their position on food actions in Africa with permanent and principal secretaries of ministries, Adipala disclosed.

“At this forum, universities will make a common statement and present their recommendations to the senior technical government officials,” he told University World News-Africa.

This will be followed by an early June event at which higher education, research and agriculture advisory bodies will convene to establish what each network wants.

Universities should play advocacy role

Universities, Adipala observed, have generally been weak, “unable to link knowledge to policy” as well as [weak] in linking with “other downstream actors, such as farmers, to address problems facing agriculture”.

They have also experienced problems in ‘cascading’ innovations downwards, and also need to “become good at listening to others”. They should strive to work at bringing on board politicians in their work, demonstrating how research can be used to deal with problems bedevilling food production in Africa.

Adipala added that “universities must now agree to come out and play an advocacy role and link at national level with decision-makers”, as they learn advocacy lessons from others.

Overall, he said, the time had come for African universities to take the mantle in agriculture, engage with others, and have their voices heard in sharing solutions to challenges in African agriculture. They must, as well, seize the opportunity to learn from other actors in the sector, including farmers.

The UN summit aims to generate actions and identify solutions by issuing a call for action at all levels of the food system. It also hopes to raise awareness and elevate public discussion about reforming food systems to help realise the Sustainable Development Goals by implementing various reforms for the good of the people and the planet.