By John Clement
June 3, 2011
The University of Guelph and Njala University in Sierra Leone have entered into a unique arrangement to strengthen the African institution’s ability to help in the rebuilding and development of agriculture and community service. As part of that arrangement, a delegation from the Sierra Leone university recently toured Ontario to gain a sense of how our province has put together a strong working relationship between farmers, producer groups, educational institutions, industry and government.
Njala University has its work cut out for it. Recently emerging from a decade-long civil war, Sierra Leone finds itself at a crossroads regarding food production, the sustainable use of resources, and poverty. Poverty is wide-spread, and agriculture is the primary source of employment and livelihood, with two-thirds of the population dependent upon agriculture for its livelihood. In addition, agriculture is responsible for almost half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Accordingly, agricultural development has been identified by the government as a key to economic growth and poverty reduction in Sierra Leone.
Despite the key role Njala University has been given in helping to rebuild Sierra Leone, it isn’t without its share of unique challenges. For one, the campus was badly damaged during the civil war and was abandoned for over 15 years. In addition, half of the University’s faculty had fled the country or had died in the conflicts. Also, a key area that had been underdeveloped in the Njala University’s strategic plan was how to get the institution to play a key role in developing working linkages with extension personnel, farm groups, community organizations and private corporations.
Fortunately for Njala University, a strategic planning partnership with the University of Guelph can yield strong help for the task. The University is one of the country’s most research-intensive educational institutions and has developed a strong track record over the years for extension and cooperative efforts with industry, farmers and government. And the larger Ontario agricultural infrastructure could also make a contribution if called upon, due to its well-developed approach to collaborative efforts.
Having recently met with the Sierra Leone delegation, I am left with two strong impressions. First, I was impressed with the commitment and dedication of the Njala representatives to rebuild their country and their efforts to seek out the best help in using agriculture as one of the prime development tools. Second, I was thankful that our infrastructure and working relationships within Ontario agriculture are well developed. We sometimes grumble about our domestic agricultural system as we seek to improve it day-by-day, but it remains a wonderful achievement for delivering opportunities and creating wealth. I wish the Njala University and the University of Guelph well in their partnership and pray that it will deliver great benefits for the people of Sierra Leone.