Calls to re-energise the African Crop Science SocietyACSS).
The society, founded in 1993, has been facing various challenges, mostly related to low membership, in turn affecting its operations, despite it being the publisher of the quarterly African Crop Science Journal.
While the society has been able to publish regularly, officials believe that it has been largely moribund and inactive despite the existence of agriculturally focused universities on the continent, a vibrant agriculturally-focused scientific community, and the vital importance of agricultural sciences in a context of climate change and sustainable development, in particular a reduction in hunger.
“We have had many challenges over the years, the main one being low membership, which is bad considering the ever-growing need to continue sharing African agriculture knowledge and the role the society can play in this endeavour,” said Luisa Santos, the society’s president.
Over the years, she disclosed, they have been able to hold only 12 annual conferences from a possible high of over 20. This situation is attributable to the membership challenge and the general apathy towards the association by potential members, she said during the Annual General Meeting of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) held in December 2022 in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
Scientists asked to enrol
In appealing for more scientists to join the ACSS, Santos, who is a professor at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, noted that raising its profile and reenergising it will depend on the numerous crop researchers in universities across the continent enrolling in their numbers, giving local scientific research more visibility.
“It has taken the determination and dedication of both officials of the ACSS and the journal editorial team to continually publish each quarter of the year despite the challenges. This is no mean task but it has kept us alive,” she told University World News on the sidelines of the gathering.
This year she disclosed, a number of activities have been planned, chief among them a membership drive that will also include updating the members’ database; and setting up a system for online payment and registration through ACSS webpage.
“We will also start preparations for the next ACSS conference in 2024 in Maputo, Mozambique, details of which will be released in March this year,” she added. At the same time, they will organise no less than three webinars related to the topics of crop science relevant to the continent.
Based at Uganda’s Makerere University since its founding by the immediate former head of RUFORUM Professor Adipala Ekwamu, the ACSS journal has had mixed fortunes despite the crucial role it played in communicating African scientific output.
According to Professor Theresa Nkou-Akenji, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bamenda in Cameroon, it was sad that the few associations and publications present on the continent enjoyed little support and patronage from local researchers even as the need to publicise African science persisted.
More than 1000 delegates are attending the event, hosted under the theme of ‘Strengthening Africa’s Agri-food Systems in the Post COVID-19 Era – Opportunities and Challenges’, among them representatives of donors and development partners, vice-chancellors, college principals and deans, students, farmers and innovators.
Noting that there was little production of scientific research on the continent when compared to other regions of the world, she observed that the little that was produced, needed to be effectively communicated, for it to not only have an impact but be visible too.
“We must all find ways of becoming ambassadors of African science if we expect to grow from where we are currently and one way of doing this is by reinvigorating and supporting local initiatives such as the ACSS,” noted Nkou-Akenji, who is also the chair of the RUFORUM board.
It is by only actively participating in joint endeavours such as the ACSS and other initiatives that local scientists can be encouraged to produce more science, and help Africa feed its people and as well face new demands that it faces daily, said Paul Mapfumo, the vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe.
“As universities we have no choice but to lead the continent in advancing research and come up with new knowledge and new ways of doing things. If we are not doing this as universities, then we are doing nothing,” he said.