The official inauguration in September of a new initiative in agricultural development underlined how much we can take for granted the food we eat, the animals we either rear on farms or love as pets, or the forests that we wander in, as well as the great steps taken by the Swedish government in helping countries that need it most.
SLU Global is a program run by the university to increase sustainable agricultural production and food security in low-income countries.
“SLU has a global mission and we meet pressing global challenges by providing a scientific approach to high quality research, education and expert council in all our efforts,” says Professor Arvid Uggla, director of SLU Global.
With twin strategies involving educational research projects and capacity building, SLU Global came about as the result of a government policy of global development - Politik För Global Utveckling (PGU).
Within the remit of the ministry of rural affairs, SLU was already tasked with coordinating the various individual agricultural research projects taking place all over the world. The formation of the new initiative was seen as an ideal way of combining the two.
In effect, it is the government, via Sida, that decides where to best allocate resources and Africa is currently its primary focus. There is a prioritised list of the countries that need most help, but there are also plenty of requests from countries outside those recommended by Sida that SLU Global responds to where possible including Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or anywhere else across the continent.
“The need in Africa is great and there is fantastic potential as well. Agriculture is a major part of poor people's livelihoods and it's a driver of development,” says Philip Chiverton, associate professor and senior advisor for SLU Global.
“Through our cooperation partners in Africa, we will hear where the need is most,” says Chiverton. “Now, for example, we are responding to a Sida call for capacity building in Rwanda. A lot of what they need from us is further education.
"They are teaching thousands of students there, even though the teachers often haven't got doctorates themselves. So we are starting from scratch, starting Masters programs initiatives in order to recruit PhD students, which will in turn increase the quality of both their teaching and research,” he adds.
By collaborating with partners in low-income countries, SLU, together with national and international partners, develops research, higher education, and capacity building programs with focus on global development. Put simply, its aim is to enable the utilization of our forests, our landscapes, our soil and our animals in a sustainable way.
The university has four faculties: the Faculty of Landscape Planning, Horticulture and Agricultural Science is based in Alnarp, the Faculty of Natural Resources and Agriculture Sciences and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science are predominantly in Uppsala, while the Faculty of Forest Sciences is in Umeå.
Research is very much at its core, with some two thirds of annual SLU turnover allocated to it and around 66 percent of the staff are researchers.
Reflecting its international focus, the university produces around 100 PhD doctors each year, around one-third of whom come from Asia or Africa. SLU runs several International Masters programs as well, although Chiverton admits that there has been a significant drop off of non-European students since fees were introduced to Sweden.
Students and partners from the various institutions around the African continent do, however, still gather for specific workshops and conferences, where knowledge and experience can be shared.
The latter have been made possible by a special allocation of funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directly to SLU to promote capacity building in Agricultural Research with a focus on Africa.
Philip Chiverton, who met his future wife while working for the VSO in Tanzania, ended up in Sweden after tossing a coin to decide where to settle in 1979. Since then, he has been involved one way or another with SLU in a research capacity for over 20 years, and now divides his time consulting on its behalf for Sida and and working for SLU Global.
He is convinced that getting it right in Africa will have huge long-term benefits reaching far wider than the continent itself.
“We've seen the Green Revolution in Asia, now we've got to make it work in Africa otherwise they - and by extension we - are in trouble,” he adds.
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