InnovATE presents at conference on “Africa Feeding Africa”

Article by Foster Whitaker and Edin Simms

“Agricultural competitiveness is a necessary catalyst for agricultural innovation. For Africans to feed Africans, their agricultural value chains have to be competitive locally and globally,” said Keith Moore after returning from speaking at Africa Agricultural Science Week. Earlier this summer African nations and their international partners came together in Accra, Ghana to discuss “Africa Feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation”, in a triennial conference on African agricultural development convened by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Virginia Tech was represented by Keith Moore, Director of Performance Assessment at the Office of International Research, Education, and Development. Moore was invited by the African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry, and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE) to speak on post-secondary education for agribusiness curriculum development.
In Africa, 45 percent of the land area is devoted to agriculture, and 65 percent of the population is engaged in agricultural work. For this reason, economic development of the continent rests on development in the agricultural arena. The event brought together African agricultural researchers, scientists, educators and policymakers to share their experiences and plan for a unified program for agricultural development throughout the African continent.  The conference aimed to review progress made towards achieving the vision of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), an Africa owned and Africa led initiative working to boost agricultural productivity in Africa. Other items on the conference agenda included highlighting policies to reduce poverty and food insecurity and determining a comprehensive strategy for the region over the next three years. Dozens of sponsors, such as the African Union, the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the British Department for International Development, the Agence Française de Développement, and the African Development Bank contributed to the conference.

Topics at the event included new approaches focused on fostering entrepreneurial mindsets and networks of innovation. New concepts were introduced, notably that of shifting from “publish or perish” to “impact or perish,” engaging the private sector in curriculum development, and implementing reform models from outside of Africa. Moore presented on the Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) program, highlighting findings from agricultural education and training institutional self-assessments.

Summarizing his experience at the event, Moore stated, “There is an increasing recognition that institutional capacity building is where the real challenge lies. To scale up individual capacity requires the transformation of institutions. While it is relatively easy to just train individuals, count them, and claim the impact of those numbers, true impacts are only achieved when the institutions those individuals work in change. Unfortunately, we have greater difficulty in measuring institutional changes, and an even greater challenge in determining the source of institutional change.”
Moore said that institutional capacity building is about institutional transformation that enables productive relationships with agricultural communities. Agricultural education and training institutions need to ask community partners about their skilled human capital needs in agriculture. He said the question that needs to be asked is, “How can we get institutions to engage in the development of the labor force and entrepreneurship in local communities?”
InnovATE’s solution is to move beyond traditional linear models where a scientist creates new knowledge and transfers it to the extension agent who then teaches it to the farmer. “This one-way communication leaves the scientist essentially deaf to the experience and concerns of local stakeholders and renders the farmer, and other members of the value chain, mute and unable to interact and share knowledge,” said Moore. This problem loomed large in meeting participants’ minds and frequently led to discussions of innovation platforms and networks.
Developing innovation platforms means developing a space in which stakeholders such as industry, academia, government, and everyday workers can learn from each other. The platforms are meant to provide a place where different stakeholders can come together, formally and informally, in varied groups to address the problem of the moment. They provide a mechanism for all members of the agricultural value chains to address problems and risks in complex agricultural markets. “Moving away from one-way development strategies is important not only for Africa, but also for all regions struggling with food security issues.”