November 13th and 14th 2019 marked a bittersweet moment for the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development. Sweet because the two days were a celebration of the research done, the PhD students graduated, the capacity built and the policy implications made. Bitter because all of these accomplishments also marked the end of an eight-year journey with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). These two days brought together the staff, students and alumni of the Department, industry members, and government representatives, and esteemed guests from various embassies.
Over the past 8 years, the BMGF grant enabled the Department to scale up efforts to develop capacity in Africa through deliberate actions to ensure that training, research and policy engagement are driven by our commitment to relevance and impact. The seeds sown by the grant have borne fruit across the continent and continue to multiply through the knowledge that is applied and shared by the graduates, researchers and experts emerging from the University of Pretoria.
This unique partnership has enabled a number of strategic initiatives essential for innovating at home and in the region. The Grant supported 18 PhD graduates (10 of whom have graduated to date) , whose research deepens our understanding of the problems facing agriculture and development in Africa. The grant also enabled the Department to buy in time from giants in our profession and specialised expertise that sets our programmes apart from others. For example, experienced commodity traders that qualified over 100 students in commodity futures and options. The module offers students an opportunity to write the Johannesburg Stock Exchange agri-dealers examination that is regulated by the SA Institute for Financial Markets. Our students achieve a cohort pass rate of over 80% - higher than the industry average. Many now hold prominent trading positions in well-known multi-national companies in the country and everywhere in Africa.
The BMGF grant also allowed the Department to invite internationally acclaimed experts in various fields, and offer postdoctoral fellowships to bright young minds, who have engaged with staff and students to forge collaborations and spark new research directions. With the BMGF grant, the Department could also grow its own timber – exposing young people with potential to international training opportunities, enriching their careers and our programmes.
The BMGF grant supported another initiative in the Department, the shared facility for the Collaborative Masters in Applied and Agricultural Economics. This flagship programme of the African Economic Research Consortium has hosted 1048 masters students from 21 African countries in the past 14 years. Many are applying their training to develop policies in food security, agricultural productivity and environmental management.
Beyond the grant, we aim to provide world-class training and research to be the leading entity in Africa, offering unique customized and innovative business and policy solutions in our various specialist areas at different levels of society.
A short video containing the department’s highlights over the past 8 years can be viewed here.
The presentations can be downloaded from our website.