Monday, 22 July 2013

Why does African higher education need reform?

The research needed for agricultural development in Africa will require well-educated youth in science and technology.
The research needed for agricultural development in Africa will require well-educated youth in science and technology.
Feeding itself and helping to feed the world is the major challenge facing Africa today. And if such a task is difficult today, it will only become more difficult in the future. The African food system is expected to undergo significant changes in the next decades from the combined effect of several driving forces.

Urbanization and population growth

Africa has the highest population growth rate of any developing area, experiencing an average rate of 3% per year (Minde, 2012). At this rate, it is expected that Africa will be the most populous continent in the world by 2050. But Africa’s population is not only growing, it also is becoming increasingly urban. In the early 60s, 85% of the population of West Africa lived in rural areas, but it is expected that by 2020 the situation will reverse, with 60% of people living in urban areas and 40% in rural areas. With such a growth rate, African urban population will triple in the next 40 years (Figure 1). 
Projected urban and rural population growth rates in Africa, from 1950 to 2050.
Projected urban and rural population growth rates in Africa, from 1950 to 2050. Source: UN Urban Projections
The result will probably increase food needs, with demand shifting towards quality, high-value foods (vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products), and processed, packaged or prepared foods. The increase in urban population at the expense of rural people will reduce labor and productive capacity in rural areas, and consequently affect the local food supply that is mainly based on family farms.

Economic Growth

Changes in food patterns are also determined by changes in per capita gross domestic product (GDP). Since the beginning of the millennium, Africa has experienced a sustainable economic growth with an overall positive trend in per capita GDP. In general, the demand for processed and high-value foods such as meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and dairy products increases significantly with income. Economic growth will therefore compound the effects of urbanization on the African food system.
Together, these two trends will more than triple the volume of food sold over the next 40 years and ramp up demand for high-value foods, processed foods, packaged convenience foods and prepared foods.

Climate Change

Climate change is affecting food supply and availability by weakening of the resilience of farming systems. In particular, it contributes to the degradation of natural resources such as water and soil, which are the basis of agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change also increases the risk of flooding, drought and pest and disease outbreaks, and therefore undermines the securit of crop yields, local food production, rural livelihoods.
Projections of the impacts of climate change on agricultural potential in Africa by the year 2050 show that around 75 million hectares of agricultural lands could disappear in arid and semi-arid regions, with a drop in cereal production of about 20-50% in the Sahelian countries and 5-20% in Sudano-Guinean area (Compaore, 2012). In addition to the decline in food production, climate change contributes to increased demand for food as a result of natural disasters that put rural and urban inhabitants alike into a state of emergency.

What do these challenges have to do with the education system?

The forces described above will induce significant transformational changes in African food systems. To cope, Africa will require a substantial flow of scientific and technical expertise to support and intensify agricultural production, promote the development of agro-industries, and improve food storage, management processing systems.
The growing demand for processed foods, for example, requires a substantial investment in agro-industrial technologies. To modernize and intensify the processing of cassava, maize, sorghum, yams or bananas, the food industry will need to undertake research in the fields of biochemistry, biotechnology, production and packaging, as well as in the fermentation process. These tasks will require strengthening the technical capacity and human resources of universities, laboratories and professional training centers to help the private sector sustainably meet increasing food needs. Significant policy and institutional reforms will also be needed to supply universities, laboratories and other training centers with the necessary scientific and technical equipment.
It is ironic that, although facing the challenge of an Africa that must feed itself as well as help feed the world, African universities continue to produce several thousands of young graduates every year in law, economics or political science. Only a few dozen, poorly equipped students graduate from agricultural and health and nutritional schools.
The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) is therefore a very welcome event. The conference offers FARA and its partners, including RUFORUM, ANAFE and CTA , the opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities present in African education curricula, and thus to propose the reforms and changes that need to be set in place.
Blogpost by Rivaldo Kpadonou, a social reporter for AASW6.
Photo: G. Napolitano (FAO)