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ATPS hosts Program Development Meeting for the Universities Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UBRAIN) Program

ATPS together with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), African Network for Agro-forestry Education (ANAFE), and Pan African AgriBusiness Consortium (PanAAC) today held a crucial program development meeting at the ATPS Boardroom to discuss and shape the Universities Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UBRAIN) initiative.

Ralf Von Kaufmann,(FARA) makes a presentation at the meetingRalf Von Kaufmann,(FARA) makes a presentation at the meetingThe initiative which is currently in the inception design phase is an outcome of the Africa Commission consultations which seek to link university education, research and business in sustainable agriculture. The Africa Commission Report concluded that “African Universities are not sufficiently geared to meet the needs of industry. Graduates cannot often find employment, while many small businesses lack staff with the education and skills needed to drive innovation. Essentially the relationship between the demands of the private sector and what the universities teach is too weak.”

The initiative seeks to link up to two existing initiatives which have been proposed and developed within the framework of the Africa Union and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). The initiatives focus is on improving agricultural teaching and learning at graduate and post-graduate levels and fostering agricultural innovation.

There is also a particular emphasis on building on existing networks in Africa: FARA and the appropriate Sub Regional Organizations (SROs) for the agricultural research, The African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE) for the universities, the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS), for the innovations incubation initiatives and the Pan African Agribusiness Consortium (PanAAC) for the private sector.

The Program which now seeks support from Danida seeks to answer the following key questions:

  1. How can we better use the existing capacity in African universities for agricultural innovation?
  2. How can African universities produce agricultural innovators and business leaders adequate for achieving the needed growth?
  3. How can innovation cultures be up-scaled and sustained at a pan-African level?

Speaking during the meeting, Dr Kevin Urama, the Executive Director of the ATPS said, “The UBRAIN initiative focuses on innovation in agriculture and agribusiness. Fostering innovation requires a clear understanding of the necessary "ingredients" to innovation. A rapid assessment of selected Higher Education facilities and Universities in Africa show that the current pedagogies and incentive structures are discipline based, they focus on literacy and publications, organized in faculties with rigid boundaries and hence discourages collaboration, trans-disciplinarity and responsible innovation. Most disciplinary domains focus on scientific enquiry and building "academic tribes" rather than collective learning.”

Dr Urama further suggested that for innovation to be fostered in African Universities, a re-engineering of current pedagogies and learning methods in Universities to mainstream trans-disciplinarity, systems thinking and collaboration is required. The reforms recommended to the Association of African universities include:

  1. Pedagogical Reforms - From Disciplinarily to Trans-Disciplinarily
  2. Knowledge Structures Reforms - From Science and Technology Transfer to Responsible Innovation
  3. Mindset Reforms - From Silo Thinking to Systems Thinking
  4. Governance Reforms - From knowledge hierarchies to participatory governance and full Socialization of Science & Technology
  5. Incentive Structures Reform: From "Publish or Perish" to a more Inclusive Performance Incentives Systems
  6. Policy Reforms: -to create enabling policy environments for innovation through collaboration.

Participants attending the program development meeting for the UBRAIN programParticipants attending the program development meeting for the UBRAIN programBy implication, attention needs to be given to the whole value chain to ensure that the weak links are strengthened, from knowledge generation through technology development and uptake of these technologies as innovations for development. Technology can be defined as knowledge used to solve problems. Innovation is therefore neither scientific research, nor technology, but rather the application of knowledge in development. It is therefore necessary to build national system of innovation that can drive national development. The structures of interconnected institutions must be capable of creating, storing and transferring the knowledge, skills and artifacts which define new technologies. The systems comprise the national institutions, their incentive structures and their competencies, that determine the rate and direction of technological learning or the volume and composition of change generating activities in a country .These innovation systems are heterogeneous for different countries and institutional environments. They differ in the way in which knowledge flows are structured and in the relative importance of the different types of institutions, actors or linkages. Each must therefore chart its own sustainable development trajectories.

This initiative will foster agricultural innovation by providing support to encourage and facilitate innovation in the private sector through establishing better linkages between universities, research and agribusinesses in addressing constraints and opportunities in agricultural value chains.

The UBRAIN initiative sees the inter-Iinkages and synergies created amongst different stakeholders as the principal driver for innovation. This model of building innovation through collaboration will be a key indicator of success for consortia establishing of the Innovation Incubators.

Posted on Monday 12th October, 2009




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