African academics say that partnerships and collective action across different sectors, including higher education and research, are needed to actualise the resolutions agreed upon at the United Nations Food Systems Summit held on 23 September in New York.

“The common message and commitment to global partnership for collective action, and the urgency to address the climate change challenge, as well as other environmental hazards, resonates well with the commitments that emerged from several national and regional dialogues, including those facilitated by RUFORUM,” said Professor Adipala Ekwamu, executive secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

The key issue, however, is the implementation of the agreed action points of the eight-month regional dialogues that preceded the summit, he said.

For Africa, what is needed are efforts to revamp investments in various agriculture initiatives, and adequately invest in science, technology and innovation and in human capital development to elicit the necessary responses and change.


“Africa must also engage more actively in harnessing digital technologies and its renewable energy resources. Above all, we will need to maintain focus on ensuring inclusivity in the different undertakings. Continued academia-science-policy interaction will help us leapfrog forward,” Ekwamu said.

The UN event recognised the fact that food systems cannot thrive without all sectors working together as one; hence, the need to involve various sectors of government, and the need for interaction of “multiple scientific disciplines”, as well as traditional and indigenous knowledge.

The summit also emphasised the need to scale up public and private financing for food production as well as science and research.

According to Kay Muir-Leresche, retired professor of natural resource economics and member of the RUFORUM international advisory panel, the role of universities in the future of food systems “needs much greater emphasis – not as ivory towers but as the spigots that can play a central facilitating role”.

She said she was disappointed by what she viewed as a lack of focus on implementation and adequate acknowledgement of the place of science and universities in implementing the resolutions.


“I have to say that, in general, I am rather disappointed at the very fragmented response … a wide menu of disparate commitments that do not seem to focus on what is needed to make all these things work … building human capital to use new technologies to apply to solving the problems,” she said.

In her view, the outcomes needed to have placed more emphasis on investment in the people and institutions that can help to achieve change, by building the capacity for science and the generation of knowledge, as well as in sharing it.

“At the moment, it is just many promises to carry out particular things by many actors – not a concerted attempt to address the core problems,” she said, adding that the creation of knowledge by using new approaches that can reach all levels and involve all stakeholders was critical.

Equally important was to build the capacity required to use knowledge generated by universities and research institutions for the agriculture sector. The “creation and sharing of knowledge [should be] integrated with building capacity”, she suggested.


According to Dr Florence Nakayiwa, RUFORUM deputy executive secretary for planning, resource mobilisation and management, commitments made during the summit deserved appreciation and support. What was now required, however, were mechanisms to operationalise them.

“We believe the summit process that garnered views from different stakeholders will hold countries and institutions accountable for the promises they made. We want to see a system where there is interface and coherence across the sectors in meeting the post-summit actions,” she said.

She said local context was key to the success of the pledges, and decisions made at implementation stage needed to be evidence-based and recognise existing realities.

“We should invest in and use the human capital that we have on the continent for sustainable initiatives,” she said.

Authored by:
Maina Waruru
Posted by:
AAP Bridge

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