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Inaugural Conference for Young African Researchers in Agriculture Network (YARA)

Venue: Ocean Breeze Hotel, Strand, Cape Town
Date: 6 Feb 2017 to 8 Feb 2017
Time: 8:30 to 18:15

1. Background

The unabated Africa’s population growth in the face of stubborn poverty in Africa has undermined the continent’s capacity to feed its people and this was exacerbated by the rise of food and energy price towards the end of the last decade that push more people in deep poverty and malnutrition particularly in rural areas. The twin challenges of poverty and hunger has stimulated an unprecedented interest among policy actors at both national and international levels in Africa to start looking at the most efficient and cost-effective models that can help Africa to overcome these challenges.

The transformation of the rural economies in Africa does not only require substantial financial investments from the international community but also, and most importantly, robust and rigorous research in this economic sector which harbours the majority of African population, particularly the poor. A study which was jointly conducted by the World Bank and Elsevier to examine the research that was undertaken in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2003 and 2012 across different science disciplines has found some disturbing trends of, among other things, heavy reliance on international collaboration for research which suggests a lack of internal research capacity to produce high quality research output and very little inter- and intra-collaboration between African academics.

The report found, for instance, that about 65 percent of all research in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012 were produced through international collaborations while inter-collaborations among Sub-Saharan African researchers only amount for a mere 3.9 percent. The intra-regional collaboration among African researchers in the same year stood at 24.7 percent in West and Central Africa, 13.6 percent for East Africa, and only 5.67 percent for Southern Africa. Another disturbing finding that emerged from this study was a trend that shows very little collaboration between African academics and other major partners on the African continent such as corporate, government, and civil society organizations; which implies that these partners are less likely to rely on African-generated knowledge and research in their work and policy formulation processes on the continent. The main objective of Young African Researchers in Agriculture Network (YARA) is to reverse these trends.

Launched in 2014 at the African Union Head Quarters in Addis Ababa, the network brings together young and early career African researchers in agriculture in order to cultivate the culture of supporting one another, sharing information, networking and collaborating for research projects, all of which contribute towards enhancing research capacity in agriculture on the African continent. YARA ethos is built on the need to support and promote young scholars on the continent in order to secure the future of research, policy and practice in Africa’s agriculture. The network is based on the need to claim our space as young and early career African researchers in the African scholarship on agriculture and natural resources management and promote African voices in different academic and policy forums through producing high quality end-user oriented research output.

2. Key objectives and outcomes of the conference

This inaugural conference is the first step towards reversing the trends outlined above. It will provide YARA members the opportunity to know each other and share their experience, work and research interests with the aim of forging necessary networking and partnership between those currently working on similar issues on the African continent. YARA members have been conducting research on diverse issues relating to agrarian transformation in different parts of the African continent and the conference will provide them with the opportunity to share their research outcomes/results and experiences and get constructive feedback, comments and critiques, while at the same time encouraging academic debates and engagement on these issues particularly among young African minds. The main outcome of the conference will be a detailed report of the recent research in various areas undertaken by YARA members on the African continent and possible gaps that need further investigation and which may present opportunities for research collaboration and partnership between Young African academics. From this perspective, the conference will provide YARA members the opportunity to reflect and forge together short, medium and long term plan of actions and implementation mechanisms.

3. Content and Structure of the Conference

The conference will address the crucial questions of: Why the transformation of rural economies in Africa does matter and the importance of forging strong collaboration among young African academics to achieve that?

To address these critical questions, the conference will be organized around four main themes:

  1. Property rights including land governance,
  2. Climate change and environment,
  3. Food security and
  4. Agro-food systems and rural livelihoods.

The framing of these themes was informed and guided by the bio-data that YARA secretariat requested all members to submit in April 2016. The specific information requested included, among many other things, the field of study, research interests, and current research work that YARA members are involved in.

Additionally, YARA members have been requested to submit the titles and abstracts which best represent their research interests and their submissions were used for designing the programme of the conference. In addition to constructive academic engagement based on the work that they have done in their respective areas, YARA members will get the opportunity to reflect together on the challenges that they are facing as young African researchers working on African continent and also explore how best to increase their collaboration in order to increase the quality, quantity, and visibility of their work but also their influence in policy making processes on the African Continent. 

4. Participants

The YARA Inaugural conference will only be open for the members of the network. However, a formal dinner for which non-members of the network will be invited has been also considered. The primary objective of the dinner will be to sell the YARA intellectual project to various partners, including policy makers, donors, corporate, CSOs and the media. The YARA leadership suggest the following: Members of the executive in South Africa, NEPAD, Pana-African Parliament, SADC, LPI/AU, FAO, US Embassy, GIZ, DAAD, DFID, Omidyar, MasterCard Foundation, Packard Foundation, Open Society Foundation, CSOs, members of YARA advisory group (senior researchers) and the media. Given the budget constraints for the conference, the costs for attending the dinner will be borne by the invitees.

5. Dissemination of the conference

YARA network was given a page on the website of Future Agricultures Consortium, one of the biggest consortiums of researchers in agriculture in Africa that is housed at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, UK. This page will be used to disseminate the information about the YARA inaugural conference before, during, and after the event. However, YARA leadership is planning to start conversation with our funders (Omidyar, MasterCard Foundation, and Packard Foundation) about having our own website that is not only dedicated to the conference but also other YARA activities including publications from YARA members, conference proceeds, policy briefs, blogs and other many more activities which are undertaken by the YARA members.

In addition, YARA will also use the websites of our key partner institutions to disseminate the information about the conference including the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), Center for Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape, Land Policy Initiative (LPI) of the African Union and Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University. On social media specifically, YARA has started its own Twitter account and Facebook page which will be also used for the dissemination of the conference and beyond.

Finally, the YARA leadership will conduct a post-conference survey (similar to the Customer Satisfaction Index), to establish whether the interests and expectations of the conference participants were met and any other issues that the participants would like to be improved moving forward. The Facebook page is: Young African Researchers in Agriculture Twitter account: YARA Africa, @YARA5414

Visit the YARA Website for more information