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Kenya: Professor Gichaga Calls for More Government Funding and Technology Uptake

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) is in the process of establishing a modern nanotechnology laboratory. The first of its kind in the region, the lab will be used for the development of nano structured smart delivery systems for the administration of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, thus enhancing food security.

Prof Francis Gichaga, the Chancellor of the University, announced the new centre at a graduation ceremony saying that JKUAT is committed to the adoption of appropriate technologies as they offer many opportunities which can exploited to assist the nation in its efforts to move towards industrialization.

“We need to be able to convert our raw natural resources into finished and saleable products locally and internationally. One such area is in the mining and exploitation of our mineral resources,” he said, pointing out that the University has developed a curriculum for training engineers in the area of mining and mineral processing “involving relevant stakeholders to ensure that the courses are of high quality and are market oriented.”

The chancellor challenged universities to be initiators of entrepreneurship ventures, which, after incubation, are passed on to industrial entrepreneurs in return for financial gain to the institution.

“In our case in Kenya,” he said “universities and research institutes need to adopt corporate governance and in addition encourage linkages with industries through the structured participation of industry in the governance of universities and research institutes.”

He pointed out that the need for adequate research funding in public universities cannot therefore be over emphasized. “It is however noted that the current level of funding is inadequate for the research needs of the university,” he said.

Kenya researchers were encouraged to vie for external funding from both local and international sources. “Besides attracting external funding, the University continues to encourage collaborations with international institutions,” said the chancellor who has devoted his 40 years in teaching to civil engineering.

JKUAT has been lauded for its involvement in hosting the Pan African University Institute of Science, Technology and Innovation (PAUISTI) Regional Institute. The Pan African University will award degrees jointly with the host Universities.

It is envisaged that the institute at JKUAT will admit the first lot of students in September 2011 to contribute towards the African Union Commission’s target of increasing university enrollment from the current 2-3 percent to 12 percent against the global average of 27 percent.

Prof Gichaga articulated that over the years, there has been a large backlog of KCSE students awaiting university admission for one and a half years to sometimes two years.

“In order to address this challenge, the Government has asked the public universities to undertake an accelerated intake to clear the existing backlog,” he said, adding that “as a result, each public university has been allocated an additional number of students for admission.”

JKUAT has been allocated 1481 in addition to 1301 already admitted in the 2011/2012 Academic Year. This will represent the largest number of Government sponsored students for admission into the University.

The accelerated intake is in anticipation of a large admission in 2015, when it is expected that the first batch of the 2003’s Free Primary Education students will be eligible for University admission.

Thus he said: “Given that this will further stretch the current institutional resources, I would urge the Government to allocate commensurate capitation to ensure that the quality of programmes is not compromised.”

Professor Gichaga in his office at JKUAT

The Chancellor encouraged upcoming professionals to follow rules and procedures in executing their projects “in order to protect society from exploitation by unscrupulous officers,” adding “while to err is human, one needs to acknowledge and accept his fault as required by the code of ethics.”

“We are endowed with people of varying talents and qualities and it is our duty to go out there and identify them and give them opportunities to excel,” he said.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that “poor developing third world countries, like ours, are characterized with low absorption of efficient technology, and that for a poor country to become a middle income country, like the Asian Tigers, there is need to aggressively embrace efficient technology.”

He said developed countries of the first world continue to invest heavily in the area of research in technology so that they can remain competitive in the global market.

“Consequently it makes economic sense for us to invest in that technology that will make our products saleable in the global market,” he said: “In this respect we should keep abreast of the latest developments in technology with the aim of harnessing the same in our endeavour to uplift the standard of living of our citizens.”

In the area of agriculture, the Chancellor said that it is important to acknowledge that about three quarters of Kenyans derive their livelihood from the agricultural sector which contributes about a quarter of the country Gross Domestic Product. “We must therefore give appropriate priority to this sector in terms of research, extension and innovations in order to improve on efficiency in food production, post harvest technology, storage and marketing.”

He said its the onus of universities to undertake research in order to establish the necessary ingredients that will make the country secure in the area of food production as well as how they can make the agricultural sector more attractive to the young, energetic and the educated in the society.

“If such an endeavour were to succeed,” the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi said “we would witness an increase in employment opportunities for the youth of this country and that way we would project an image of a university participating in the search for solutions towards sustainable food security and hence the achievement of the vision 2030 for our nation.”

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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