Universities must use ICTs to improve agriculture in Africa

About 63 per cent of total sub-Saharan African population out of about 854 million people live in rural areas compared to 26 per cent of the 502 million people in Europe, who live in the countryside.

Across Africa, the majority of the population depends on agriculture as the main source of livelihood and there is an increasing interest in agricultural investment for improving agricultural productivity and rural incomes.
Education has a great contribution in fostering sustainable improvements in the physical, social, and economic well-being of individuals and society.

In the past decade, many African countries have responded to the rising demand for university education by increasing the number and capacities of the universities so as to be able to train more graduates.
Africa, has experienced an enormous increase in demand for university education. The numbers of universities (both private and public) has increased over this period in response to this increasing demand. Several factors are responsible for this increasing demand, including free secondary education, which has propelled a surge in the numbers that qualify for university education.
Increasing the number of universities or expanding the capacities of the existing universities to accommodate and produce more graduates (quantitative response) alone will not improve lives of the African people, majority of whom live in poor rural areas. In order to address the challenge of low agricultural productivity, which affect rural incomes and quality of life, there must be deliberate efforts to transform our education systems and practices. Therefore, the growth of university education in Africa must not only respond by support for quantity, but quality as well.
Efforts must be directed towards improving the quality of education provided by these universities. One of the main driving factors in offering quality university education is information and communication technologies (ICTs). Research studies have demonstrated that ICTs can improve the quality of university education, however, Africa still lag behind in harnessing the potential of ICT in the delivery of education.

Although there has been tremendous developments in ICT in Africa with the significant growth over the past decade, ICT capacities among many African universities have remained inadequate in terms of both staff skills and infrastructural factors. ICTs can play a significant role in the agriculture sector in Africa to help in improving agricultural productivity and rural incomes.
ICTs are believed to bring about social and economic development by creating an enabling environment for effective use of information and to aid communication. Almost every single activity in any modern university is able to be driven by the power of ICT in one way or another. It should be understood that the benefits of ICTs reach even those who do not have first-hand access to them.

Drawing lessons from Asia, universities must have concrete plan (ICT agenda) to integrate ICT in every strand of their services, including teaching (e-Learning), research (e-Scholarship) and community outreach (e-Extension).
For example, with ICTs, universities can work with farmers to provide them with the opportunities to access information and other services that would help improve agricultural productivity, practices, and farmer livelihoods. Universities can also establish electronic clinics (e-Clinics) and other platforms for e-Collaboration and e-Engagement in order to understand and better serve the interest of the small holder farmers.
Over the last 15 years, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), a network of 85 universities in 36 Africa, has established itself as a regional networking platform with an agenda that seeks to facilitate universities in Africa to re-orient their training to respond to the development priorities, particularly addressing the societal pressing challenges.

The motivating force behind RUFORUM’s agenda is the realisation that transforming Africa’s agriculture, communities and economies requires innovative scientific research, educational and training approaches with the education sector being more connected to the new challenges communities face and this transformation should be driven by ICT.

Therefore, RUFORUM has started to implement a flagship programme known as the Knowledge Hub (K-Hub) to drive “the African Universities’ Agenda for Agricultural Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation” with a strong emphasis on ICT.

Mr Otto is the manager of the Knowledge Hub at RUFORUM. [email protected]