Research and technology Knowledge

Updated June 1997

Universities and national agricultural research in North Africa and the Near East

based on the work of
Professor Abdalla Ahmed Abdalla
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Agricultural Research Corporation
The Sudan
This article is taken from the publication "The role of universities in the National Agricultural Research Systems of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Sudan and Tunisia" (FAO, 1996)


The agricultural sector dominates the economies of the majority of the countries in the Near East and North Africa Region, and yet it remains a vulnerable sector. It is basic to food security, as it is the source of livelihood for the majority of the population, and provides income, foreign exchange earnings, savings, and gainful employment. Many factors have contributed to holding back agricultural development in the countries of the Region. Slow agricultural growth, with food production rising more slowly than population growth, is a root cause of the economic and food deficit problems. To meet their development objectives, the countries of the Region must increase their food supply and their exports, develop their human and institutional capacities, technology packages, delivery systems and physical infrastructure.

The durable solution for improving agricultural performance in the countries of the Region lies largely in the transformation of its agriculture through effective National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) capable of producing productivity enhancing technologies.

Rational use of suitable technologies could increase labour and land output, reduce production costs and improve agricultural productivity. Besides technologies, proper transformation requires production and marketing policy reforms, institutional and infrastructure restructuring, adequate inputs, and sound crop and livestock management.

The potential for increasing agricultural output in the countries of the Region is great. Crop and livestock yields under farmers' conditions are markedly lower than results obtained from research trials. Agriculture is central to economic development, and agricultural research is needed to increase the productivity of the sector. The importance of agricultural research for sustainable agricultural development has been increasingly realized, together with the need for coherent policies to support and guide national agricultural research institutions (NARIs) as one element of NARS in the Region.

Enhancing the research capacities of NARS requires combined, integrated and sustained interaction of all the elements involved in agricultural research planning, technology generation, adaptation and validation, transfer and utilization, including the active collaboration of policy-makers, educators, trainers, extension workers and the clients. Strong and effective NARs require sustained political will, support and commitment, linked with appropriate policies and research management, together with defined priorities, coherent objectives, qualified and motivated research scientists, trained technical support staff, adequate research facilities, sustained adequate funding, effective coordination and intensified on-farm involvement. Almost all NARs in the Region fail to satisfy these essential requirements. They all require, to varying degrees, research capacity building and capacity improvement, particularly in human resources development, and the assessment of performance and impact as an ongoing requirement for institutional development. For sustainable agricultural growth and environmental protection, NARS must include research on natural resources management in their research agenda.

An FAO expert consultation (The role of universities in national agricultural research systems. An FAO Expert Consultation, FAO, Rome. 19-22 March 1991) underlined the important role of universities in NARS, and considered them vital components of these systems. The consultation called for establishing and strengthening institutional and functional linkages and procedures for coordination, cooperation and collaboration between universities and NARIs, which would enable universities to become effective partners in agricultural research and thereby contributes to improved capacity of NARS. The consultation recommended that FAO assist member states of the Region in devising appropriate and durable mechanisms for the creation of the required linkages, according to the specific needs of research for sustainable agricultural growth in each country.

Recognizing the crucial significance of strong and effective NARS, the productive research potential in the universities and the profitability of the functional complementarity of universities and NARIs, the FAO Regional Office for the Near East Region and the FAO Research and Technology Division (AGR) initiated a project to foster the establishing and strengthening of collaborative research linkages between universities and NARIs. The immediate objective of the project was to make universities effective partners in research. The medium- and longer-term objectives were to improve capacity and productivity of NARS and adapt appropriate technology required for improved and sustainable agricultural growth. The basic hypothesis for the project was that, while universities have a high concentration of highly trained scientists, the resource has not been effectively harnessed for applied agricultural research. Linkages between universities and NARIs have been lacking or poorly functioning, and not sustainable.

The countries targeted for the implementation of the project were Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Sudan and Tunisia. These countries were selected on the basis of desire to participate in the project, the need for diversity, and the complexity of their agricultural research and higher agricultural education systems.

Country reviews were made through individual country case studies prepared by local experts, to provide information on the status of linkage mechanisms, assess their performance, identify constraints and propose ways and means for improved effectiveness and sustainability of agricultural research. The case studies were prepared under the supervision of National Steering Committees (NSC) established in each of the five countries. The case studies included the current roles of academic and research institutions in agricultural research; assessment of current linkages, potential and limitations; and recommendations for establishing and strengthening university-NARI linkages. The case studies were reviewed and discussed by national workshops for validation of the findings and recommendations. National workshops were generally attended by Presidents of universities, Deans of colleges and senior ministry and research staff.

The case studies and the discussions in the national workshops furnished important information about the human and physical resources in NARS. It also provided the opportunity for senior personnel from research and from higher agricultural education to meet and embark on very inspiring discussions focused on the need for establishing and strengthening research linkages.

A regional workshop was held by FAO in Rabat, Morocco, 31 October - 3 November 1994, organized around the presentation of the case-studies, and provided an opportunity for discussion and synthesis of the findings and recommendations. The regional workshop was attended by the authors of the five case studies, invited selected university professors, research leaders from the region, and representatives from the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) and the Arab Centre for Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD), who presented their relevant experiences. Discussions in the workshop focused on commonalities and differences, as demonstrated in the case studies, so that lessons could be drawn which would hopefully contribute to the development of viable and sustainable, productive interactions between universities and NARIs for the participating countries, and which would be of interest to others in the Region, as well as to FAO, IARCs and the international donor community.

The FAO/AARINENA Regional Workshop

The workshop on Promoting the Role of Universities in NARS of Selected Near East Countries (the Workshop) was planned and organized by FAO and the Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA), in collaboration with the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture. The Workshop (Rabat, Morocco, 31 October - 3 November 1994) was attended by representatives of five NARIs and of five higher agricultural education institutions from the targeted countries, in addition to representations from ISNAR, ACSAD and one private sector organization from Morocco. The objectives of the workshop were to: The workshop was organized around the five country case study presentations from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Sudan and Tunisia. Country papers were prepared in English, and have been edited by FAO for inclusion in this publication. Brief synopses of the case studies are given below.


The agricultural sector accounts for about 20% of both gross domestic product (GDP) and total export earnings, and 36% of employment. Land and water resources are limited. The 5-Year National Research Plan (1993-97) emphasizes the need for optimization of crop returns per unit of land and water consumed.

Agricultural research is largely concentrated in the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) within the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). It is the principal agency responsible for technology generation, with 16 research institutes, 7 central laboratories and 37 research stations. ARC employed 3 570 scientists in 1994, of which 2 042 held PhD degrees. There are several other public sector research institutions that carry out agricultural research. These institutions together employed 1 687 in 1994, consisting of 887, 409 and 391 respectively of PhD, MSc and BSc holders.

The total professional personnel in agricultural research within the public sector is about 10 000 researchers. The private sector is increasingly contributing to agricultural research, particularly in the areas of seeds, agro-chemicals and tissue culture. Research and Extension Councils have recently been established in each of the five agro-ecological zones of the country.

There are currently 18 national problem solving programmes, which are interdisciplinary and inter-institutional. Each programme has a national coordinator. Through ARC, Egypt has maintained a number of contracts and agreements for cooperation with the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) since 1979.

Funding of public sector research is mainly from the government, but also by external donors. Government expenditure on agricultural research is about 0.83% of national agricultural income.

There are in Egypt 12 universities and 17 faculties of agriculture (FOAs), all engaged in one way or another in agricultural research. Total qualified academic staff members in these FOAs (in 1994) amounted to 2 737 (1 157 PhDs). The primary function of the academic staff is teaching and post-graduate training, and most research is done as part of post-graduate study programmes. Staff research has been declining because of lack of funds. Efforts have been made to involve university staff in national research programmes through allocation of funds from externally financed, university linkage programmes in the period 1982-1992, and from other programmes. Except for a few successful examples of linkages supported by externally funded programmes, there are no official functional linkages between universities and NARIs. Linkages supported by external funds are not sustainable as they weaken following termination of the projects they are related to.


The agricultural sector in Jordan contributed 7.7% of GDP in 1992. Together with agro-business, it contributed 29% to GDP in the same year. Livestock, particularly sheep and goats, contributes about 45% of Agricultural GDP (AGDP). Water is the limiting factor for agricultural production, and hence a need to optimize the use of this scarce resource.

Agricultural research is concentrated in the National Centre for Agricultural Research and Technology Transfer (NCARTT), within MOA, and with a mandate for developing, adapting and disseminating technologies for crop and livestock improvement. In 1994, the Centre had 14, 49 and 79 respectively of PhD, MSc and BSc degree holders. Funding of agricultural research comes from the government. Agricultural research is also carried out at the universities. In total the colleges of agriculture employed 74 PhD and 14 MSc holders. Academic staff members with PhD degrees are appointed mainly for teaching, and, when they do research, it is personal and geared toward career advancement purposes. Institutional research linkages are lacking.


The agricultural sector in Morocco accounts for about 17% of GDP and 40% of the labour force. Soil and water resources are comparatively plentiful by North African standards. Ecological diversity allows several production systems, various crops, livestock and forests.

Agricultural research is conducted by both NARIs and academic institutions of higher agricultural education. The National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA) is an autonomous government institution within MOA, and responsible for applied crop and livestock research. Research in INRA is organized by programmes. INRA has eight regional centres in the various ecological zones of the country. Funding for research comes from the government. INRA in 1994 employed 250 ingénieurs and 354 technicians, in addition to 18 foreign research scientists. Research and extension are in separate agencies within MOA. Agricultural research is also conducted in the academic institutions of higher agricultural and veterinary education, which include the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine (IAV) in Rabat and Agadir, the National Agricultural School (ENA) in Meknes, and the Royal Forestry School (ENFI). The academic institutions have dual affiliation to both MOA and the Ministry of Education. IAV Hassan II employs 194 PhDs, 113 MScs and 132 technicians (BSc equivalents). Academic staff spend 40% of their time on research and 30% on teaching.

The government is the main source of funding for agricultural research, provided through MOA. IAV Hassan II is involved in a range of collaborative research programmes with regional and international organizations, but has no formal research links with NARIs. However, links with users are strong.


Agriculture dominates the economy of the Sudan. It is the source of livelihood for the majority of the population, provides employment for 70% of the labour force, generates 80% of export earnings and is basic to food security. The massive extension of the country, from the hot arid north to the tropical wet south, provides several ecological zones and farming systems, including a variety of crops, pasture, forest and livestock.

Agricultural research is concentrated in the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), an autonomous institution governed by a Board directly responsible to the Minister of Agriculture. ARC is entrusted with applied agricultural research in crops, food processing, forestry, fish and wildlife.

ARC operates a network of 17 experiment stations and 5 specialized research centres countrywide. Active research scientists in ARC (1995) were 200, most with PhD degrees from abroad. The research scientists were assisted by 420 field and laboratory technicians and skilled labour. Laboratory and field facilities are generally adequate for applied research, although maintenance of buildings and equipment is poor. Funding comes to ARC largely from the government, and to a lesser extent from donors and contribution from the public agricultural corporations.

Agricultural research is also carried out in the universities. The University of Khartoum (Faculties of Agriculture, of Forestry, of Animal Production, and Institute of Environmental Studies) and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Gezira, are the main academic institutions involved in agricultural research. Funding for research comes from the university budget and has been declining and is currently effectively non-existent. Most of the research in the universities has been carried out by the graduate students. Altogether, the academic institutions have about 170 members of the academic staff with PhD degrees, spread over 10 FOAs, and 122 with MSc degrees and 112 with BSc degrees. The majority of the academic staff members are in the Universities of Khartoum and of Gezira. Research linkages between NARIs and the academic institutions are generally poor, except for cooperation in the post-graduate studies programmes.


Most of the agricultural land in Tunisia is in the semi-arid areas and subject to erosion and desertification. The potential water resources are about 4 484_106 m3, of which 60% is used. The cultivated land is about 5 million ha, corresponding to 30% of the national territory and 0.6 ha of available land per caput. The main crops include cereals, olive, fruit and legumes. The contribution of agriculture and fisheries to GDP has declined to about 13%, from 24% in the 1960s.

The NARS comprises seven research institutions and nine agricultural higher schools (academic institutions). The National Agricultural Research Institute of Tunisia (INRAT) is the main research institute, and responsible for applied research in crops, livestock and water. There are several other specialized research institutes. There are altogether 35 experiment stations. Most of these belong to INRAT. Agricultural research is also carried out by the higher agricultural education institutes. All agricultural research institutes and the academic institutions are affiliated to both MOA and the Ministry of Education, and managed by the Institution for Agricultural Research and Higher Education (IRESA). IRESA plans, coordinates and supervises agricultural research programmes and higher agricultural education, and also transfers research technologies to the users. There is no defined budget for agricultural research. Monitoring and evaluation of research is lacking.

The total number of staff in all research institutions is about 1 600, including 231 researchers and 243 technicians. INRAT alone has 42% of the total staff and 36% of the researchers, with 9% of the research staff with PhD degrees and 72% with MScs.

The annual budget for research is about 0.4% of AGDP. Funding comes from government, and it is generally inadequate. Bureaucratic procedures limit efficiency. Few of the 69 technologies produced in the previous five years had been adopted. There is obviously a gap between research and extension due to lack of institutional linkage. Cooperation of research institutes with development agencies is relatively better. Linkages between NARIs and the academic institutions is poor.

The academic institutions carry out research in addition to their basic mandate of teaching. They are structured into departments supervised by directors. Academic staff time allocated for research varies from 15-30%. Staff research is not monitored. Scientific Committees are expected to direct and evaluate research programmes, but this does not occur in practice. Academic staff research is generally for promotion purposes, where scientific papers published in recognized journals are required, and it is also required for the graduation of the students. Research linkages for collaborative programmes are lacking. Very limited examples of successful collaboration between research institutions and universities occurred in the past.

Major findings and synthesis


For promoting research collaboration between universities and NARIs, with the ultimate aim of strengthening the capacities of NARIs in the participating countries, the Rabat Workshop adopted the following recommendations.

National Governments are strongly urged to

Universities are strongly urged to NARIs are strongly urged to A role for FAO, the IARCs and the international assistance agencies


The sustainable agricultural growth needed for improved economies and food security requires a political will to develop appropriate strategic visions and policies, good planning and firm commitment to additional and sustained funding, physical resources, a conducive environment, and ­p; in particular ­p; strong, effective NARS.

Improved capacity and productivity of NARS is vital for sustainable agricultural growth. The need is recognized, and it is accepted that agricultural research can be a very effective means to meet that need. Improved capacity and productivity of NARS can be attained in part by improved research collaboration between universities and NARIs, which will harness the resources of research scientists available in universities but currently under-utilized for research.

Universities, with their wealth of highly qualified academic staff members and potential for agricultural research, are currently recognized more for their teaching role than for research. Furthermore, linkages between universities and NARIs in the five cases reviewed are poorly developed, often not functional, and not sustainable. Several constraints to university research and to effective and sustainable collaboration between universities and NARIs were identified by the case studies.

For NARIs to achieve their development objectives, substantial efforts must be made by national governments, universities and NARIs, as well as by regional and international organizations and IARCs, to foster university research and remove the obstacles which prevent universities from becoming firmly linked into the work of the NARS. NARS should develop guiding values for efficient utilization of resources. Programmes should be collaborative, multidisciplinary and inclined towards farming systems and commodities, and enhance on-farm research and participation of clients. Allocation of funds must be based on priorities. Improvement in the capacity and productivity of NARS should proceed together with development of regional and international cooperation.

Considering the potentially key role of National Steering Committees (NSCs) in exploring plans of action, defining needs and roles of local institutions and in advising local authorities on the best approaches for strengthening NARS, it is hoped that national governments will adopt and support the recommendations generated from their case studies and others produced by the regional workshop discussions, and provide institutional frameworks for the continuation of the NSCs until more appropriate mechanisms are established.

General guidelines for establishing and strengthening university-NARI linkages

Governments should consider the establishment (if not already available) of a national mechanism, like an agricultural research council, to review, assess, harmonize and endorse national agricultural research within NARS. The mechanism must have a broad representation from the various components of NARS: national planners, concerned ministries, farmers and the private sector. In view of the diversity among NARs, no one structure can be prescribed.

Universities should establish structures for research organization and management, with firm links with NARIs, so that they are able to interact effectively within NARS.

All-Country Coordinated-type projects and programmes should be promoted by the major national agricultural research institutes, possibly assisted by donor funding, to foster research collaboration between university staff, NARIs and international research institutions. Such projects must involve joint research teams, comprising academic and research staff. Funding should be linked to joint team participation from universities and NARs. Similarly, University Linkage Projects, designed to increase university involvement in research addressing priority needs, would provide opportunities to promote linkages between universities themselves, and between them and NARIs, with the help of local and external funds and management. To qualify for funding, research teams for university linkage projects should include academic staff from universities and research staff from research institutes. These project should also provide for post-graduate training as an integral component of the project.

Universities should consider establishing and strengthening multidisciplinary institutes devoted largely to specific problem-solving research in the fields of food, agriculture, agricultural economics and rural development. Such institutes, while maintaining a high level of autonomy, would remain firmly linked to teaching and post-graduate studies, in addition to targeted research. Such institutes would foster multidisciplinary and collaborative research.

Establishment should be encouraged of a Research Fund derived from growers' associations, the public and the private sectors, to be allocated to researchers from both universities and NARIs on a competitive basis and targeting priority research needs. Priority for funding from this fund would go to collaborative research and academic staff jointly.

A pilot model for university-NARI collaborative research linkage might be started in each of the five countries, involving one faculty of agriculture and a neighbouring NARI. An agreement would be signed between the university and the NARI, outlining all matters relating to the linkage, including individual research programmes, duties, funding and monitoring and evaluation. The project NSC might be a suitable focal point to initiate, prepare and implement such a pilot scheme, with the assistance of FAO and possibly a funding donor.

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