Why research is key to agro-industrialisation

Wednesday November 13 2019


By Kefa Atibuni

Uganda’s long-term vision is to industrialise and transform the structure of the economy by 2040. Since agriculture is the main stay of the country’s livelihood, it is obvious that the sector needs a holistic support from both private and public sectors for this transformation to materialise. An example of such needed support is the presidential initiative to promote agro-industrialisation for local economic development (AGRILED) being piloted in the Rwenzori region. The overall strategic direction of transforming local government system is to facilitate effective business-oriented local development with focus on poverty reduction and sustainable wealth creation.
With a total budget of about Shs650 billion spread to cover three financial years starting 2018/2019, this funding has been limited to four cross-cutting sectors, including tourism, agro-industries, agricultural productivity and agri-business park at Kyembogo in Kabarole District. I would like to add that one of the critical success factors as we embark on the long-term aspirations of transitioning into a modern industrial economy, is the element of research-led economic development, given the fact that inventions from research are usually the much needed inputs for agro-industrialisation.
In developed economies, we see agricultural institutes and university departments being at the forefront of areas of research vital to agriculture and related technologies, more less like in Uganda. However, the difference comes in the levels of collaboration between industry-partners and research service providers.
Many universities in developed countries encourage staff to provide academic consulting by allowing them to spend usually 20 per cent of their time on outside activities and providing services to external organisations on commercial terms. This may involve providing advice, resolving problems as well as generating or testing new ideas.
A 2006 record in the UK, for example, shows that total university income from consulting translated into an average of Great Britain Pound (GBP) (2458) per academic staff member. This is because they recognise the fact that inventor involvement is critical for the commercial success of university-generated technologies, which are often embryonic.
In Uganda, therefore, we have lessons to learn about the involvement of agricultural research service providers in the planning of interventions in our journey to agro-industrialisation.
The National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), the apex body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the national agricultural research system, has to date developed more than 800 technologies in all sectors of crops, livestock and fisheries. Undeniably, the number of technologies continue to surge over the years as scientists continue to work hard in responding to the challenges in the agricultural sector.
However, a good number of these technologies, many of which are of industrial significance, are still on the shelves mainly because of a weak collaboration between inventors and investors, especially the industry-partners.
Yet, one of the biggest advantages of a well-nurtured research–industry relationships is that it breaks through the previously held view that perhaps public research service providers such as those in Naro and public universities are cut-off from industry because they work in the “ivory towers” as the proverb has it and are not ‘talking’ to the industry-partners, and the partners maybe are also “too busy” to talk to ‘those researchers’.
Mr Atibuni is a development communication officer based at Naro Secretariat. katibuni@naro.go.ug