The event was organized under the umbrella of the lighthouse project “Clusters of Scientific Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa” (COSIMENA) of the DAAD Egypt. At the same time, this Public Lecture was also meant to offer new networking opportunities as well as best practice examples and to shed light on the DAAD’s Centers of African Excellence Program which aims to enable the training of future decision-makers according to international standards in African countries.
Challenges for the African continent
Africa is a continent full of potentials and opportunities, but also one facing many challenges: poverty, lack of sufficient educational opportunities, malnutrition, consequences of climate change and the demographic growth that represents one of the most urgent issues nowadays. According to experts, the African population will double until 2050; a fact that requires rapid and innovative solutions from key stakeholders and decision-makers. Therefore, higher education and scientific research play a major role, regarding the sustainable development of Africa – especially, in providing innovative solutions to global challenges and in fostering collaboration.
The Public Lecture aimed at supporting scientists, practitioners and policy makers improve agricultural practices, in order to preserve the environment and ecological equilibrium in Africa. “With sustainable practices in the field of agriculture, crops can be increased, jobs and food can be secured, which consequently paves the way for fostering sustainable development and enhancing the awareness for shared responsibility while facing the current global challenges” Isabell Mering, Director of the DAAD Regional Office Cairo, underlined in her greeting words. The rapid population growth, limited resources, water scarcity etc. are a common global challenge that the world face nowadays, especially on the African continent. In order to feed such a growing number of populations, “we have to focus on innovative agricultural solutions and developments in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)”, added Mr. Philippe Maupai, Head of Science and Protocol at the German Embassy in Cairo.
DAAD support, sustainability and Centres of African Excellence: potential for development and sustainable solutions in the field of agriculture
For many years, the DAAD has been supporting sustainable development initiatives through its German African Cooperation Programmes and through partnerships between German Universities and Universities in Africa, as well as through its network in different countries around the world. In 2008, the DAAD has kicked off the programme “Centres of African Excellence” with funding from the Federal Foreign Office. The aim was to establish and expand efficient and sustainable educational structures at African universities. Since then, ten centres of excellence have been established, and in 2021 two more centres have been founded focusing on sustainability and resource management.
Both centres will be run by German universities in cooperation with their partners in Subsaharan Africa and will receive DAAD funding from the Federal Foreign Office up until 2025.
One of the speakers of the Public Lecture, Prof. Dr Andreas Bürkert from the University of Kassel, is the contact person on the German side for one of these new centres for “Promoting Academic Capacities for Sustainable Agricultural Resources Use in West Africa (shortly: Pro-RUWA)”
The other center is coordinated by specialized in “Sustainable Operations for Resource Management and Food Supply (SCO)”.
In his presentation entitled “Rural-Urban Transformation in Subsaharan Africa: an engine for agricultural intensification and sustainable development”, Prof. Dr Andreas Bürkert, Head of Section at the Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences at the University of Kassel, offered an impressive overview on the newly established Centre of Excellence between universities from Germany and West-African countries. He then went in depth to discuss further themes like the relationship between population growth, soil degradation vs. unexploited potentials in global food production, area and labour productivity in agriculture. The renowned speaker finished his contribution summarizing the following conclusions: “1. Rural-Urban transformation is a major driver for (agriculture) development worldwide. 2. Its sustainability largely depends on matching consumer demands for ecosystem services with (regulated /certified) production systems. 3. Exploitation of value chains may generate jobs, including for new arrivers (refugees)”.
Best practice examples for sustainable agricultural solutions in Egypt: Heliopolis University, Cairo, and the SEKEM initiative
Dr Ahmed Abdelhafez, Professor of Agricultural Microbiology at the private Heliopolis University in Cairo, talked about the “Role of Projects to Promote Sustainable Development in Africa” and described “Heliopolis University as a model”. Dr Ahmed Abdelhafez started his presentation by talking briefly about the characteristics of farming systems in North Africa and the Middle East, stating that 75% to 80% are smallholder farmers and describing the agricultural system in Africa as extremely diverse in terms of resources, land, climate influence, population density, market institutions. Dr Abdelhafez underlined the importance of agriculture in Egypt as a key sector in the Egyptian economy, where for example in 2019 agriculture contributed to 11% of the country’s GDP and accounted for 23% of the total employment in the country. This important sector is locally dominated by small farms and traditional practices which do not apply international standards. As Heliopolis University stands for sustainable development strategies and in order to improve the situation in the agricultural sector in the country, the expert gave further insights in potential solutions by presenting several practice-oriented projects initiated and managed by his university, such as the EU-funded “SustInAfrica” (Sustainable Intensification of Food Production through resilient farming systems in West and North African countries), “Organic Egypt”, “NAOKH – North Africa Organic Knowledge Hub” as well as two GIZ-funded Agriculture Innovation Projects on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (AIP-MAPs) and Onion and Garlic (AIP-Onion and Garlic) which target rural communities in Upper Egypt.
The third presentation was held by Dr Sigward von Laue of Sekem Group/Sekem Development Foundation and Head of Research and International Affairs at Heliopolis University, who focused on the topic “Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Arid Areas – Opportunities and Challenges.” Dr von Laue offered precious practice-oriented insights in the possibilities and strategies of “greening the desert” by giving several examples from the SEKEM activities and efforts in different areas in Egypt and by highlighting sustainable approaches to create a new Nile Civilization, to make water available, to build up mixed farming systems and to make use of compost – the so-called gold of the desert – to enhance the soil structure. In a second step, Dr von Laue presented a vision plan for greening the desert in the frame of the four dimensions Economy – Ecology – Societal Life – Cultural Life and in the frame of making use of transparent value chains: SEKEM considers this model to be truly cost efficient and describes the coherence of the different dimensions as “Economy of Love”, where different potentials, economic facts and sustainable agricultural production, education and inclusion, international cooperation, culture for “Agri-CULTURE”, medical facilities and health management go hand in hand and form a convincing holistic approach to adapt sustainable agricultural practices in Egypt – which might be a model also for other African countries.
In the framework of this COSIMENA Public Lecture and by inviting renowned speakers and experts from the scientific field of sustainable agriculture, the DAAD Regional Office Cairo once more succeeded to act by the DAAD’s motto “Change by exchange”. This exchange of specialized scientific knowledge on sustainable solutions for agriculture on the African continent was meant to be a contribution to offer and share new insights and practical experience and to give impulses to shape a global society that finds solutions to the pressing issues of tomorrow – in this case especially for a fascinating and enriching continent with enormous potential, Africa – the cradle of civilization!