UniBrain Project

1.0 Background and Context

1.1 Introduction

The nexus between research, innovation and entrepreneurship is the driving force behind human advancement:  research feeds innovation which in turn drives entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, the growing chasm between skills set and knowledge of university graduates in Africa on one hand, and market demands in the agricultural sector on the other is generating anxiety and concern amongst educationalists, researchers and developments practitioners in the continent.  The concern arises from the fact that Africa still lags behind western countries with regard to generation and application of new ideas in the agricultural sector to boost food production. This state of affairs, juxtaposed with high levels of unemployment amongst university graduates in the midst of increasing demand for the application of modern agricultural/agroforestry/agribusiness practices must be revisited and acted upon. Africa, perhaps more than any other continent, and more than ever before, require a deliberate shift towards an agricultural system based on research, innovation and agribusiness. This is the only sustainable way to counter emerging challenges facing the sector: low agricultural productivity and the attendant food insecurity. Critical examination of the problem point to three possible underlying causes: low innovation in the agricultural sector; lack of practical skills with regard to agricultural practices among university graduates; and, poor entrepreneurship skills. The African Commission, having deliberated on this issue at length, concluded that:

“African universities are not sufficiently geared to meet the needs of industry. Graduates often cannot find employment, while many small businesses lack staff with the education and skills needed to drive innovation. Essentially, the relationship between the demands of the private sector and what universities teach is too weak. However, studies show that when university graduates do business, they create more jobs than those without a university education. Nowhere are these deficiencies more critical than in agriculture, Africa’s dominant industry”.

Thus, from the foregoing, strengthening the link between research, university education, with respect to agriculture and natural resources and agribusiness could be the spark required to ignite an agrarian revolution in the continent. In light of the above, and taking into account existing complexities and challenges, the African Network of Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), together with African universities and colleges in conjunction with nongovernmental organizations and research institutions, has embarked on an exciting journey towards enhancing food security in the continent by tapping into the potential benefits accruing from effective collaboration among the key institutions in this sector. Funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Danida, the initiative, dubbed Universities Business Research in Agriculture and Innovation (UniBRAIN), aims to catalyze agricultural productivity and entrepreneurship with the ultimate aim of boosting agricultural productivity and food security in the continent. This will mainly be achieved through collaborative management of agribusiness incubators comprising of universities, research institutions and the private sector in the Africa. However, to reap maximum benefit from this initiative, it is important that the relevant bodies and institutions a device pragmatic and ingenuous approaches.

1.2 UniBRAIN Development Objective and Output Domains

The development objective of UniBRAIN is to contribute to enabling African countries to create and raise incomes through sustainable agribusiness development. This is to be achieved through the following three output domains;

  1. Commercialization of agribusiness innovations supported and promoted
  2. Agribusiness graduates with a potential to become successful entrepreneurs produced by tertiary educational institutions
  3. UniBRAIN’s innovative outputs, experiences and practices shared and up-scaled

 

The three Output Domains interact as shown in Figure 1

 

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   Fig. 1: Interaction of the three Output Domains

 

1.3 Role of ANAFE in UniBRAIN

ANAFE is tasked with overseeing Output Domain 2 during the life of UniBRAIN. The following are the specific tasks to be undertaken by ANAFE:

  1. Provide performance and quality assurance in respect of the improvement of agribusiness education;
  2. Work with the incubators and associated agribusiness faculty staff in planning and designing improvements to agribusiness education modules and courses;
  3. Help to ensure that the universities associated with UniBRAIN take optimal advantage of the incubators to improve the agribusiness education that they provide
  4. Be a knowledge source on the lessons learnt by other initiatives for improving agribusiness education;
  5. Raise UniBRAIN impact by disseminating improved agribusiness education products amongst its wider membership and by helping internalizing them in non-UniBRAIN universities and colleges.

 

2. UniBRAIN Incubators

UniBRAIN is designed to operate tripartite innovation incubators comprising of universities, research institutions and the private sector. Agribusiness Innovation Incubation Consortia (AIIC)

UniBRAIN is designed to pilot initiatives aimed at creating graduate entrepreneurs, improving teaching and practice of agribusiness and developing approaches for scaling up and scaling out best practices and lessons learnt. The inception and start up phases of UniBRAIN have been successfully implemented leading to the selection of the following six Agribusiness Innovation Incubation Consortia (AIIC).

 

Consortium Area of focus
  1. Sorghum Value Chain Development Consortium (SVCDC) – Kenya
Sorghum value chain focusing on Food, and feedstock to other industries
  1. Consortium for Enhancing University Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (CURAD) – Uganda
Focusing on the coffee value chain in Uganda from production to utilization.
  1. Afri-Banana Products Limited – Uganda

 

Focusing on the banana value chain involving packaging fresh bananas for export and other products such as banana wine and basketry from banana fibre
  1. Creating Competitive Livestock-Bias Entrepreneurs in Agribusiness (CCLEAr) – Ghana
Focusing on livestock products from poultry and small ruminants
  1. West African Agribusiness Resource Incubator (WAARI) – Mali

 

Focusing on agroforestry products that are commercialized
  1. Agri-Business Incubation Trust (AgBIT) in Zambia

 

Focusing on value chain of tropical fruits including mangoes, water melon and tomatoes

3. Experiences Learnt so far

3.1 University capacity in technology generation

From the work done by ANAFE during the inception start up phases of UniBRAIN, it was observed that extensive research work undertaken by universities has generated a number of prototype technologies that need to be commercialized. These technologies are used for teaching and learning and often win awards during exhibitions. The challenge lies with the next step of commercializing the technologies as supportive framework for this is lacking. ANAFE has lobbied university administration in developing structures that will enable them to better link with industry and have these technologies commercialized.

3.2 Understanding of Incubators

UniBRAIN was designed to develop agribusiness incubators as a way of generating graduate business start ups. The understanding of an incubator was found to be different for different universities. This led to the recommendation of the following model for incubation to be used by the consortia and universities.

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Fig. 2: Model for Incubation recommended to the consortia by ANAFE

 

3.3 Nurturing Agripreneurs – The Internship Experience

As part of the efforts in enhancing the participation of agribusiness graduates in undertaking businesses along the agricultural value chain, ANAFE was involved in an internship programme during the start up phase of UniBRAIN. The following was established from the internship;

  • There is need for more practical sessions for agribusiness students to enable them practice their profession
  • The interaction of the agribusiness students with the industry needs to be enhanced for them to develop understanding of enterprises and enhance a positive attitude to agro-enterprises
  • Internships are needed to for agricultural graduates to achieve the UniBRAIN purpose of job creation
  • The agricultural industries have a role in packaging agribusiness graduates to be entrepreneurs
  • Contextualized enterprise development learning materials need to be developed in UniBRAIN

3.4 The Agribusiness curriculum survey

During the Start-up phase for UniBRAIN, ANAFE identified the need for a thorough assessment of the agribusiness curriculum offered in universities in order to recommend improvements that will optimize on the benefits to curriculum during UniBRAIN implementation. To this end, ANAFE undertook an agribusiness curriculum survey in Africa with four regional consultants each covering one of the four regions of ANAFE namely; East and Central Africa Region (ECA), Southern Africa Region (SA), African Humid Tropics Region (AHT) and the Sahel Region. The agribusiness curriculum surveys revealed the following;

  • The agribusiness curriculum is wide, giving students a wide exposure of the subject. However, there is need for more practical sessions for agribusiness students to enable them to sharpen their entrepreneurial acumen.
  • The curriculum needs to be structured in a way that will enhance interaction between agribusiness students and the Industry.
  • Internships are needed for agricultural graduates to achieve the UniBRAIN purpose of job creation
  • The agricultural industries have a role in packaging agribusiness graduates to be entrepreneurs, a factor that ANAFE will explore with other UniBRAIN Team partners
  • Teaching and learning materials on enterprise development by graduates need to be developed from the success stories of the start-ups and on-going incubator businesses.

During UniBRAIN implementation, ANAFE seeks to optimize on the lessons from the incubation process to develop jointly with consortia ways of improving teaching and learning of agribusiness based on the findings above and on new lessons from the incubation process.

4. Consortia Needs identified during visits

As part of the implementation phase activities, visits were planned to each consortium with the following three objectives;

  1. Familiarize with what consortia are doing
  2. Explore opportunities for partnership
  3. Strategize on how to work together in a win-win situation with consortia

The visits were made to CURAD (26th September 2012), ABP (27th September 2012), SVCDC (4th October 2012), CCLEAr (10th and 11th October 2012 and AgBIT 15th and 16thOctober 2012.  WAARI was not visited due to the political situation in Mali hence this synthesis will be shared with WAARI to develop areas of convergence.

The following is a summary of the activities identified during the visits to be implemented jointly by ANAFE and partners during UniBRAIN implementation;

Improvement of the Internship and Attachment Programmes

All the consortia visited identified this as an area of collaboration. The ANAFE experience in managing internships during UniBRAIN Start-up phase will serve as a point of departure in implementing the internship programme. Since agribusiness internships are a new undertaking, the lessons learnt will be documented closely with a view of making improvements on the internship programme even as it gets underway. There will thus be need to look at each cohort of interns separately.

Documenting Incubator Experiences

The concept of incubation is new even though universities had many arrangements related to it. Given that the UniBRAIN incubators are a pilot phase, it will be necessary to analytically document the incubation experiences from each consortium with a view to project models of incubation that can be adopted by institutions. The unique challenges and settings of each consortium will be captured and analyzed to help in scaling out of the incubation process.

Developing Contextualized Learning Resources

Incubators provide a unique opportunity to develop agribusiness learning resources for practical teaching and guiding to enterprise development. Development of these resources will be a useful stage in scaling up and scaling out of the incubation process.

Skill Enhancement for Lecturers

There is no doubt that incubators are to bring new ways in which agribusiness is taught for enhanced practice. It will be necessary to enhance the skills of lecturers in adopting the new teaching methods and also tap from the input of the private sector in teaching agribusiness. ANAFE will work with the consortia to achieve this.

Lobbying University Leadership to Embrace New Agribusiness Approaches

The introduction of tripartite UniBRAIN incubators where universities are involved is a new concept that calls for a number of adjustments to be made. Since UniBRAIN has an expanded focus on not only making the incubators successful, but making them replicable as well, it is necessary that ways are sought to look at the areas that need adjustments and ways of making the adjustments possible so that university leadership supports them as their buy-in to the adjustments is vital for the success of sustainable incubation.

Undertaking Tracer Studies

ANAFE will work with incubators in tracing the beneficiaries from the incubation process including students on attachment, interns and incubatees. This will complement the current activity involving tracer study of agribusiness graduates in UniBRAIN consortia countries. The value added to graduates as they go through the incubation process will be examined, alongside the challenges they face and how these challenges can be addressed through curriculum reforms.

5. UniBRAIN Partners

Partners include the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), The African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), Pan African Agribusiness Consortium (PanAAC), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), the African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) and the Centre for Coordinating Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa (CCARDESA) and the Agribusiness Incubator Initiative of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ABI-ICRISAT).

6. Way Forward

In moving into UniBRAIN Implementation, ANAFE will focus on the six areas identified jointly by ANAFE and the consortia. A review of progress made will be done at the end of each year and adjustments to intervention approaches made. ANAFE will work with consortia universities to have the lessons learnt the incubation process get into the curriculum of UniBRAIN consortia universities and other universities in Africa.