Agric varsity should focus on research MPs


Parliament yesterday enacted the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN), formerly Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) with a strong voice for a research centric approach.

Legislators who took to the floor in support of the Bill, said lack of research had crippled the sector - which prior to independence and thereafter - contributed to about 80 percent of the GDP down to just two percent presently.

Former education minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi said the transformation of the college to a university should have adequate budgetary provisions for research undertaking, which would in turn revive the agricultural sector.

Moitoi argued that the sector has potential to grow the economy except that there is a culture that when Botswana has identified a niche, “we keep it low” instead of expounding on that development. She cited the Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine laboratory, which she said had potential to expand and be imported provided it is well financed and developed with that objective in mind.

Moitoi also said the country had preliminary structures and foundation to commercialise areas such as food processing at the National Food Technology Centre. The agricultural university must therefore be capacitated through the right expertise and funding to grow this undertaking.

Reminiscing of her Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) where a whole division was dedicated to farm machinery development, utilised especially in arable agriculture, Moitoi said it would be a tremendous gain to the agriculture sector if BUAN would resuscitate this.  Dithapelo Keorapetse of Selebi Phikwe West, who also supports the Bill, envisages the university to dedicate time and resources to agro-based industries research. The youthful MP said quality academics has to be attracted and retained for this to be realised.

Keorapetse stressed that the importance of creating a research-enabling environment through incentivising not just research but publication as well, is lacking in public higher learning institutions.

“This university must look especially at agro-economics, especially on how agro-based industries can be set and contribute to the economy as well as to measure impact,” he said.  As a result, he said government had to seriously consider the extent at which research is funded.

Keorapetse proposed a research-funding model similar to how resources are allocated for learning and teaching purposes.  Tati West MP Biggie Butale said BUAN should have been the country’s founding university, and established before the Botswana International University of Science and Technology and the University of Botswana.  He premised his utterances on the fact that no country has developed first class status without having passed an agricultural revolution. Butale argued that an agricultural university is the basis of such transformation.

However, Butale said the university must not be divorced from the people, as modern institutions have come to be known.

“Universities have become elitist, and therefore taken as an expense rather than as investment, a great majority of these institutions do not impact down on the men in the street as they cannot pinpoint how universities have improved their lives,” he said.

Participants of a recent consultative forum expressed this sentiment on the College’s transition.

Patrick Molutsi, acting executive secretary of the Human Resource Development Council lamented that the institution is not hands on, in comparison to the “white agricultural demonstrators of the past, spent time with farmers, they were very close to farmers.”

He also said BCA had abandoned its founding maxim.

Therefore, its approval as a university had to highlight research and industry co-operation, as there is demand in these areas.

Molutsi added that the university had to be closer to farmers, policy advisors, as well as to prioritise programmes for research.

He said of the 61,000 students in local tertiary education institutions, a whopping 70 percent were studying towards certificates and diploma programmes, while only three percent enrolled in post graduate studies - Masters and PhD programmes. Molutsi said this information was taken from a situational analysis taken in 2012.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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