Kenya: Mudavadi Urges Universities to Innovate in Agriculture to Boost Food Security

Nairobi — Universities have been urged to embrace agricultural innovations and research, to create solutions that will ease the cost of living.

Prime Cabinet Secretary, Musalia Mudavadi has said the agricultural sector is the backbone of the economy, contributing approximately 33 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Similarly, the sector employs over 40 per cent of the total population and 70 per cent of the rural population.

“There is rising demand for agricultural products driven by population growth. For instance, Kenyan’s population is estimated to hit the 55 million mark this year. To meet the rising demands of this rapidly growing population, we must invest and annually increase agricultural production by a minimum 2 per cent,” said Mudavadi.

He underscored the Kenya Kwanza economic transformation agenda which focuses on subsidizing production rather than consumption.

“If you go to some of the places where we gave farmers an opportunity through the fertilizer programme, the harvest is promising. It means we have started getting it right,” he said, “In order to walk this journey to prosperity, we have to cut on bureaucracy for us to benefit from the partnerships and we can attest that in some of the places food prices have started going down.”

He said this is despite economic hardships, climate change, land scarcity, dwindling water resources, decreasing agro-diversity, soil fertility as well post-harvest losses.

He made the at University of Nairobi (UoN) remarks during the groundbreaking of the Agricultural Technology and Innovation Centre (ATIC).

The initiative is a partnership between UoN and Elgon Kenya Limited, even as he stated that institutions specialized in science, technology and innovation like ATIC will allow more production for less.

Mudavadi also underscored the need to strengthen the relationship between the academy and industry.

According to him, the debate on the value of education, especially university education, to industry has ranged on in the country far too long without practical interventions.

Insufficient capacity to innovate, inadequate entrepreneurial skills, and poor work ethics have, however, been cited as some of the missing links between the university and business development in Kenya.

To this end, he said a pragmatic solution to this problem must lie in the collaboration between institutions of higher learning and industry. “Such partnerships while enhancing the innovative capacity of our university graduates through internship programmes, also enable universities to deploy industry players to offer practical experiences to enrich students’ learning as guest, visiting or adjunct lecturers,” he stated.

At the same time, he noted that tailor-made courses, designed and delivered with input from the industry, can contribute vastly to moulding job creators and job-compliant graduates.

“What we are witnessing, therefore, is a typical example of the collaboration between a market leader in agribusiness and a research-intensive university. At the heart of this partnership is the transfer of knowledge, skills, and competency packages to the students,” he explained.

He lauded the collaboration, saying it entails the acquisition of hands-on skills by graduates of the university through a joint internship programme designed to offer experience in real work settings across the country.

“Universities are designed to offer education and training and also conduct research to solve the problems afflicting society. Now, more than ever before, we must strengthen the contribution of universities in delivering their research products to end users,” he stated.

He called for the need to put behind the culture of university research outputs with high potential to uplift the livelihoods of communities ending up in repositories.

The PCS said he is aware of the principle of “publish or perish”, strongly enforced in universities, has contributed to this state of affairs.

“This standard could be a double-edged sword; it does stimulate research yes, but can also sacrifice the innovation potential in favour of numerous quick publications. The low level of patents emanating from university research explains the gravity of this matter,” he explained.

He affirmed that collaboration with industry is necessary to usher in a new dawn founded on the principle of publishing, patenting, and prospering.

Mudavadi also regretted some of the issues facing public universities today, particularly, insolvency.