RUFORUM Annual General Meeting
Century City Conference Centre
Cape Town, South Africa
18th October 2016
Statement on the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of RUFORUM, by Michael Hauser, AGRINATURA President:
It is my pleasure to speak on behalf of AGRINATURA during the Annual General Meeting at the Fifth African Higher Education Week and the RUFORUM Biennial Conference in Cape Town.
AGRINATURA and RUFORUM are part of the same intellectual alliance. In this alliance, we believe in agriculture. We know agriculture drives development and wellbeing. Therefore, we provide a platform to academia to support agriculture through science that makes a difference. As RUFORUM, AGRINATURA is a network of universities who educate skilled, proactive graduates, to engage in critical innovation. The work of this network our way to respond to the grand challenges.
In agriculture, these grand challenges are immense, and they are global:
Planetary boundaries. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests, food insecurity, inequality.
Africa and Europe rightly call for transformative change in agriculture. Business as usual is no option.
Five years ago colleagues would ask: What is wrong with the change? Why do you want to transform it? Today nobody questions the importance of transformative change.
Transformative change – as a concept – is now part of the most important global agreements we have.
Several of these agreements were signed in 2015. Addis Ababa, New York, and Paris became synonymous for finance, sustainability, and climate.
2016 is the first year to test these commitments. In a few days, the historic Paris Agreement on combating climate change will enter into force. Ratifying the agreement wasn’t easy for Europe.
Europe must reduce its emissions by at least 40% by 2030. This task attacks the heart of traditional development models. Protecting our climate is not free of charge. Europeans fear to lose what Africans rightly demand: prosperity and wellbeing.
If we cannot reconcile our positions and introduce justice to the climate and sustainability agenda, we will not succeed.
Quite often our approach to reconciliation, however, is incremental. Incremental change is a slow change, it is shallow, and it ignores the underlying structures that reproduce our unsustainable behaviour. Incremental change is insufficient to overcome path-dependencies; incremental change will not transform agriculture.
Instead, we risk being transformed by changes we cannot control. This is true for Africa and Europe alike.
Just look at the latest developments in Europe. The United Kingdom leaves the European Union; we see Xenophobia and new fences between countries. Fear is on the rise. In some parts of Europe, nationalism, separation, and isolation have become the new normal.
Disintegration results in shallow commitments to sustainable development. We will not achieve sustainable development through fragmentation. And as paradoxical it may sound: inequality becomes the biggest enemy to climate justice.
We will only protect our climate through equity and cooperation. Cooperation is what RUFORUM does so well.
The SDGs call for sustainable agriculture; agriculture that provides fair opportunities to farmers in Spain and Burkina Faso. This agriculture is not about poverty, but it is about prosperity and wealth. Therefore, we must tell a new story about agriculture.
Universities in Africa and Europe must ask itself a critical question. Is our research agenda fit for purpose? Does higher education educate the change agents the SDGs demand? Are we contributing to the new story?
My assessment is mixed. In Europe, the SDGs are hardly known in society. They have not arrived at the universities.
Taking SDGs seriously implies nothing less than a whole new paradigm for higher education and research. Training students in agriculture is not sufficient anymore, no matter how high the quality may be. Also, we must educate students to became global citizens who are conscious of their action, who act morally.
Such global citizens have enormous tasks ahead of them.
They must turn around incoherent support governments give to resource degrading agriculture, and they must find solutions to under- and over-nutrition. They must close yield gaps and tackle food waste. They must rebuild local and global food systems.
Therefore, simple references to the climate contract and the SDGs will not tell a new story. The new story requires serious stocktaking and fair accounting of progress towards the Agenda 2030. If we fail to nurture a new mindset based on partnership, equity, and benefit sharing, the 2015 agreements won’t help us. This SDGs requires university graduates in African and Europe who analyse and understand prevailing circumstances rather that document them. Our graduates must judge and take decisions, also at the risk of being voted out of power. These are one out of hundred reasons why the intellectual alliance of RUFORUM and AGRINATURA is so critical. Sustainable development requires leadership. Africa and Europe must mastermind such leadership. Africa needs Europe. And Europe needs Africa. Europeans recognize the importance of leadership and good relations with Africa. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who visited Africa this October, is one of them. And I am convinced that the Fifth African Higher Education Week and the RUFORUM Biennial Conference further strengthens the critical academic and political partnerships between Africa and Europe.