December 17, 2010

Private Sector Is Key Partner in African Skills, Knowledge Building

The private sector needs to be a key partner in building agricultural technical skills and knowledge in Africa, says ACDI/VOCA’s Paul Guenette and other stakeholders who met recently on the Hill to discuss agricultural development progress through efforts like Feed the Future and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP).

“The strategies we have in place through Feed the Future and CAADP are right on point,” Guenette says. “The question now is, do the countries have the absorptive capacity to benefit from these strategic investments.”

Sub-Saharan Africa, with about 740 million people, has the lowest tertiary education enrollment ratio in the world at about 5 percent, according to the World Bank. Experts agree that in a knowledge-based, competitive global economy, more needs to be done to build Africa’s technical capacity.

“The private sector has to be a driving force here,” says Amb. William Garvelink, who oversees USAID’s Feed-the-Future initiative, which outlines a comprehensive strategy to boost agricultural productivity and increase food security in Africa.

Investments for Africa’s Educational Infrastructure

The public sector funds approximately 200 universities in sub-Saharan Africa, according to World Bank figures. To meet rising demand—in terms of education, training and research—attendees agree that significant investments are needed for more educational infrastructure, investments that Africa’s public sector cannot meet on its own.

“African institutions are extremely isolated and need outside support,” says Anne-Claire Hervey of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Of the 22 CAADP compacts signed on agriculture, she added, “none of them deals with higher education.”

Local Private Sector as Strategic Partner

The good news is that by thinking of skills training and education creatively, the private sector can be—and has shown itself to be—a reliable partner, says Dave Hansen, APLU senior fellow.

“When we think of the private sector, we often think of the large multinationals like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Heinz and Mars,” Hansen says, “when the real partnerships in fact should be at the local level to ensure that decisions are relevant for local businesses and their workforce.”

Vocational Training: Local and Relevant

ACDI/VOCA’s Guenette noted the success of several programs like the Kenya Maize Development Program and Livelihood Improvement for Farming Enterprises that use vocational training, built around the local private sector’s input, to attract, engage and retain farmers—especially younger farmers—in more skilled and higher-value agricultural ventures.

“Private sector firms know best what their needs are,” Guenette says. “And the public sector in Africa is learning fast to be supportive of the private sector, but not to be a replacement for the private sector.”

Guenette joined a panel of several industry experts, including ACLU’s Hansen and Hervey; Daniel Karanja and Peter McPherson of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa (PCHPA); USAID’s Garvelink; and David Nielson of the World Bank.

The Dec. 16 event, Strengthening Support for Africa’s Agricultural Capacity Building, was sponsored by APLU and PCHPA and hosted in the Rayburn House building.

Pictured at left: ACDI/VOCA's Paul Guenette speaks at Dec. 16 Strengthening Support for Africa’s Agricultural Capacity Building event held in Washington, D.C.