Ethiopian universities reaching out for agricultural innovation

Beyond the seed sector innovations of ISSD Ethiopia, the wider BENEFIT Partnership and other partners’ activities are leading to widespread agricultural innovation across Ethiopia.The continued identification and deployment of such innovations depends on the connections between research and communities. Leaders from key universities agree and are working to strengthen these connections.

Realizing the key roles universities play in facilitating innovation and system changes, BENEFIT-ISSD Ethiopia organised a symposium to explore how to improve institutional outreach programmes and change paradigms  for greater impact in Ethiopian agriculture.

Over 60 participants, including the State Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources (MoALR), the Director of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Presidents and Vice Presidents of 15 universities drawn from four regional states (Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray) and a Ethiopian Agricultural Research Council Secretariat (EARCS) representative joined senior members of the BENEFIT Partnership at the symposium, in Bishoftu.

The symposium sought to identify pathways to improve the effectiveness of research and community services in universities, identify and assess the real value of services that are needed and explore innovative business models to enable universities to more effectively deliver such services.

Aligning to a new strategy
Dr. Eyasu Abraha, in his opening remarks reminded attendees that the new national agricultural strategy is seen as focusing on structural change and collaboration to increase agricultural productivity. This he said aligns with his own motivations, “I am here because I believe universities play an important role in improving food security and in facilitating systematic changes to support the government reach it agricultural growth target”.

Highlighting the current national challenge of export rejections due to poor quality, Dr. Eyasu urged a focus on expanded and high quality research, dissemination and interaction across the sector. Only with such exchange and engagement can national targets be achieved.

Learning from experience
Hawassa, Bahir Dar, Mekelle and Haramaya Universites are already engaged in structured engagement to carry through academic research into practical application. Through their participation in various BENEFIT Partnership programmes, the universities have gained valuable experience.

The universities highlighted key elements of their approach. Specific attention was given to the benefits of piloting innovations, potentially in single plots, which are then up-scaled, potentially to thousands plots. Being responsive to the market and adopting a demand-driven approach ensures the relevance uptake of innovations. Step-by-step institutionalisation and a focus on decentralised decision-making, all supported by continuous training and facilitative support ensures added longevity and sustainability of the innovations.

In completing these services though, common challenges are encountered. These include a low level of mutual engagement with other actors, poor technological and financial external support as well as a host of internal barriers on inventive mechanisms and financial procedures.

The future of outreach
Attendees agreed that to move forward, universities need to optimise their resource use for better outreach. To do this, innovation is needed in institutional arrangements, which currently limit responsiveness to societal issues. But with a common acceptance that Universities have the task to challenge the status-quo of current systems and change paradigms, it is clear that motivation is present.

A national meeting on higher-level educational institutes’ research and extension linkages at the end of July 2018 will see a draft report of the symposium presented.

Download the symposium report here