Climate-SABC Conducts International Conference

 

Haramaya University conducted an international conference in connection with the newly established Center of Excellence for Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation.

The conference was held for three consecutive days from 20 to 22 April 2017  in  Haramaya University’s Resource Center. The objective of the conference was to review and validate new curricula that the University crafted in collaboration with its partners to establish the Centre of Excellence.  Subject-matter specialists drawn from Ethiopia, countries from eastern and southern Africa, Asia, Europe, USA, and Canada participated in the conference.

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The participants that attended the conference from Ethiopia as well as abroad were predominantly from universities, research institutes, ministries, and other organizations that hold a stake and interest in the newly established Centre of Excellence. Senior faculty members of the University also participated in the conference. Delegates from partner Ethiopian institutions, namely, Mekelle University, Madda Walabu University, Jimma University, Oda Bultum University, Ministry of the Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, and Oromia Agricultural Research Institute were also present.

Welcoming the participants, Professor Nigussie Dechassa, leader of the Centre of Excellence and Vice-President for Academic Affairs, noted that in spite of the rapid economic growth Africa has been enjoying over the last two decades, the continent faces a serious shortage of skilled human power in fast-growing sectors such as agriculture, extractive industries, energy, water, and infrastructure, as well as in the fields of health and telecommunications. He pointed out that climate change seriously threatens crop production because of inadequacy of moisture in the soil, which is projected to get worse for most parts of the region, decreasing by about 20% in 2050. He revealed that as a result of climate change, currently, about 223 million people are already malnourished, and this figure would increase to 132 million by 2050.

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Professor Nigussie also noted that human capacity deficit as well as curriculum irrelevance to the present and future needs of the socio-economic context of Africa are other plights, which bedevil the higher education system of the continent. Therefore, he indicated that sub-Saharan Africa needs its own research and innovative solutions to tackle its development challenges such as climate change. He revealed that that African Centres of Excellence have been initiated by the World Bank against this backdrop aimed at strengthening the capacities of African universities to deliver high quality training and applied research, to promote regional specialization in areas that address specific common regional development challenges, and to meet the demand for skills required for Africa’s development.

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Opening the workshop, Professor Chemeda Fininsa, President of Haramaya University, welcomed participants and reiterated that a variety of climatological scenario forecast limit diversification options and livelihood transitions for agricultural systems as climate change reduces crop and livestock production. He said that new diseases and pests that affect crop and livestock are projected to appear, and biodiversity would be lost at alarming rates. Another dimension that he indicated was the question of access to education and the wide gap existing between need and demand especially for courses which are critical for rapid economic growth. He also indicated that gender inequity persists in enrolment and participation of females is still being under-represented in the higher education system of Africa. He also mentioned that in terms of facilities for delivering quality higher education and conduct of impactful research, more than 80% of the higher education institutions and research centres are poorly resourced.

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In this workshop, two MSc curricula, namely, MSc Climate Smart Agriculture and MSc Biodiversity and Eco-System Management as well as one PhD curriculum, namely, Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation were thoroughly reviewed and improved during the three-day conference. External reviewers of the curricula were drawn from Makerere University in Uganda, RUFORUM (Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture), Purdue University (USA), University of Guelph (Canada), International Rice Institute (India), Wageningen University (The Netherlands), and CABI International (Switzerland). Experts that worked as internal reviewers came from Addis Ababa University and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).

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The reviewers gave excellent feedback for improving the curricula. They first indicated the need to give the courses an African-wide perspective rather than a local perspective since it is meant for the whole of Africa rather than only Ethiopia. In this connection, they suggested that some of the preliminary narratives such as the introductions to the curricula should be re-visited and adjusted accordingly. In addition, the reviewers gave invaluable comments to clearly define core competencies (level of mastery), design a portfolio of courses (and accompanying exercises) to prepare students to achieve the target level of mastery. Furthermore, the reviewers suggested to clearly pinpointing evaluation systems, faculty mentorship, research component of the programme, and the need for publication of thesis research in peer-reviewed, high-impact journals to share results with scientific community. The need for exposing students to new technologies, approaches, industrial scale (Internships with private sector or advanced research institutes, student exchange with partners, visiting scholars, seminars by world-class experts, and participation/contribution at key conferences) was also suggested to be included.

It is recalled that the university won a competitive World Bank grant of 6,000,000 USD last year to establish the Centre of Excellence. Other counties of eastern and southern Africa region that won the World Bank grant for establishing various Centres of Excellence include Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda. It is also recalled that Addis Ababa University won the World Bank grant to establish three Centres of Excellence, namely, in drugs, water, and railway.

The objective of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation is to produce skilled human capital for Africa through research-based quality post-graduate programmes and short-term, skill-based training courses. At the Centre, Master’s and PhD level training will be provided and applied research will be conducted focusing on generating climate smart agricultural technologies that promote and enhance practices of climate adaptation and mitigation for agriculture and sustainable conservation and utilization of biodiversity.

In addition, short term training programmes will be conducted targeting various stakeholders and partners, including technical staff, students, and faculties from regional, international, and national partners aimed at enhancing their knowledge and skills in climate smart agriculture and biodiversity conservation. Regional, international, and national research partnerships will also be established and joint research conducted and publications produced in priority areas in the region.

The Centre of Excellence is expected to enrol and graduate a total of 30 PhD students and 80 MSc students at the end of the project year in 2022, out of whom at least 20% will have to be women and 25% will have to be students from Africa.

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Closing the workshop, Professor Nigussie Dechassa commended the excellent feedback obtained from the reviewers, which included, inter alia, the need to view the Centre in an Africa-wide perspective since it is meant for the whole of Africa. He said that the Centre of Excellence would value the reviewers’ and other participants’ comments to re-define core competencies, re-arrange and re-align the portfolio of relevant courses with accompanying practical exercises required to prepare students to achieve the target level of mastery, include evaluation systems and relevant research components of the programme, and spell out the need for publication of thesis research in peer-reviewed, high-impact journals to share results with scientific community. He said that the valuable comments would be incorporated and the curricula finalized for implementation.

Finally, he thanked all reviewers, curriculum drafting committee members, partners, keynote speakers, panellists, facilitators, and organizers for their contributions to make the conference a success. He indicated that the three-day conference was a significant accomplishment that provided an action packed agenda, which included thought-provoking review reports, presentations, challenging group discussions that transpired new ideas and perspectives for improving the curricula.

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