Faculty voice:

Thomas S. Jayne: Institutional capacity building in Africa

April 5, 2017 

Thomas S. Jayne is University Foundation Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics and Co-Director of the Alliance for African Partnership. 

My first task of the day was to swat the scorpions off the walls with a frying pan. That was my routine for two years in the 1980s in the Peace Corps, near Atebubu, Ghana, with no running water o­­r electricity and a very limited range of available foods. Now I’m glad my African experience started this way as it made me appreciate how most rural people lived during that time. It also kindled a passion for considering what it would take to meaningfully address the challenges I experienced. I soon decided to come to MSU to study agricultural economics in 1984.

Some 33 years later, in February 2017, I was asked to present a strategy for more effective United States development assistance at the United States Senate and House Agriculture Committees. With my colleagues, Isaac Minde and Chance Kabaghe, we proposed a fundamental shift in the paradigm and role of international organizations: Instead of providing the technologies, services and answers, the U.S. should help African organizations to do so themselves.

Africa will soon have more than 20 percent of the world’s population but it contributes less than 1 percent of published research output. Policies and programs that respond to the region’s unique challenges will require the unique knowledge and perspective that African researchers bring to the table.

An effective U.S. government approach will need to recognize the dramatic changes in the African landscape during the past few decades with respect to partnerships. Development models premised on 1980’s conditions no longer fit 2017 realities: Today, there is much greater local expertise.

Many more Africans are educated internationally, including at MSU, and possess valuable technical skills. They can operate effectively given their superior knowledge of local culture and connections with centers of local power. They’re capable of influencing government investments. An effective U.S. strategy toward African agricultural development would directly engage more African professionals than in the past. 

An important challenge now is how to expand access to high-quality and affordable education for 600 million young people in Africa. My colleagues and I agree that the time has arrived for the U.S. to find ways to effectively build African universities, agricultural training colleges, vocational schools, crop research organizations, extension systems and policy analysis institutes, realizing that competent organizations cannot be achieved without highly effective, skilled and well-resourced staff. International private companies, universities and NGOs have important but increasingly redefined roles that support the development of competent African institutions.

With a land-grant university system such as MSU, the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service, and a host of other public institutions, the U.S. has a rich history and considerable know-how to provide leadership and expertise toward institutional capacity building in Africa. MSU is already strongly engaged in supporting African agricultural policy think tanks, crop research organizations, extension systems and policy analysis institutes.

With increased stress on food supplies in Africa, it’s crucial to further support the next generation of African educators, farm extension workers, research scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers. To achieve mutual U.S.-Africa interests for economic transformation, the U.S. must bring greater support for African institutions dedicated to agri-food systems.

Often considered more of a burden than a benefit, Africa´s youthful workforce could open up a wide range of economic opportunities in farming, in the downstream stages of agri-food systems and in the broader non-farm economy with the right mix of policies and public investments toward education and agriculture. 

Above photo: Thomas Jayne (left) with members of an agricultural cooperative near Eldoret, Kenya, 2015.