Achieving Agricultural Development through Capacity Building for African Higher Education

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By Peter McPherson and Daniel Bornstein

Peter McPherson is the President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and former USAID administrator. Daniel Bornstein is a sophomore at Dartmouth College majoring in Anthropology.

USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah emphasized the pivotal role of U.S. universities in confronting global food insecurity during a speech in November before the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. There is no better way to integrate capacity building with agricultural development than by bringing African higher education to the forefront. For years, African universities have fed agriculture graduates into urban-based bureaucracies, detaching them from the urgent rural development issues facing their countries. African leaders now need to transform these universities so that they produce the knowledge and the human capacity needed to directly confront the issues of food security.

The U.S.-Africa Higher Education Initiative's efforts have resulted in USAID awarding partnerships linking U.S. and African universities . (Image credit: Higher Education for Development)

The need for action is urgent: there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world today, disproportionately in sub-Saharan Africa. Food production will have to grow by 70 percent, even in the face of the challenges of climate change, if the planet is to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. Yet development assistance for African higher education has dropped dramatically since the 1980s.

Rekindling U.S. government support for African higher education meshes perfectly with the Feed the Future initiative, the Obama administration’s comprehensive plan for fighting global hunger. Feed the Future provides an opportunity for African universities to emerge as national bastions of research and training, well-geared to local economic and social circumstances. The coordination of research, training, and extension—which in the U.S. has been achieved over the past 150 years through land-grant universities—will be crucial to this effort.