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09.09.2005 General News

Okyenhene Strikes Dutch Deal

Staesman

The Okyenhene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, has struck a collaboration deal between the world's leading university in agriculture and his kingdom, Akyem Abuakwa, for the proposed establishment of University of Environmental and Agricultural Studies in Ghana.

This significant event occurred Wednesday in the Netherlands at the Wageningen University and Research Centre. Authorities of the Dutch university had invited the Okyenhene to the country to discuss the possibilities of path-breaking collaboration between the 83-year old institute and the university that the Okyenhene is in the process of establishing in Okyeman.

After a series of all-day presentations and discussions in Wageningen, the Okyenhene told his hosts that the Okyeman University of Environmental and Agricultural Studies is envisaged to serve as the catalyst to unleash the wealth of the area for the ultimate benefit of Ghana's farming communities and the environment. “There is a high level of commitment in Okyeman to the enterprise. We welcome your collaboration to make this dream a reality.” The collaboration deal, the fine details of which are yet to be negotiated, could see Ghana's first university establishing a long term collaboration with the prestigious international knowledge institute, which leads in the fields of Agrotechnology & Food, Animal, Environmental, Plant and Social Sciences. The collaboration is expected to centre on mutual research opportunities, training and knowledge transfer, and comprehensive capacity building initiatives, among others. This could see the Dutch institute helping its Ghanaian counterpart in logistics; to develop curriculum and learning programmes for integrated natural resources management; co-hosting of courses and multi-disciplinary research work on Africa.

The main campus of the proposed University would be in Bunso, about halfway between Accra and Kumasi. Technical director of the project and law lecturer, Kwame Gyan, told the directors and professors of Wageningen University that “Okyeman has taken steps to initiate the accreditation process by applying to the National Accreditation Board for recognition of the proposed Okyeman University. All the necessary information and documentation have been supplied to the Board for processing.”

At the end of his comprehensive presentation, he told the meeting, “The expectation is that the relevant processes will be completed in due course to enable the University open its doors to the first batch of students by 2007.” Having previously been the home of the Cocoa College, Bunso has an extensive state and spacious accommodations appropriate for the University of Environmental and Agricultural Studies. With a site size exceeding 1,000 acres, Mr Gyan said, “the Bunso Campus offers a congenial place for the smooth take-off of the University.”

In addition, he told the Okyenhene's Dutch hosts, “The facilities are ready for immediate occupation, with minimum refurbishment. This would offer the University a great opportunity to expand its facilities only from the medium to long term.”

Mr Gyan said the Government of Ghana has been very supportive in the efforts of the traditional authority to establish the agricultural university. Okyeman was the first traditional authority to establish a secondary school in Ghana. Nana Sir Ofori Atta I founded the Abuakwa State College. His descendant, Osagyefuo Amotia Ofori Panin is continuing with that tradition.

Addressing the Okyeman delegation, the president of the Executive Board of Wageninigen UR, Aalt Dijkuizen, said the Dutch university shares the Okyenhene's philosophy on the environment and wealth creation in rural communities, which involves striking a practical balance between the competing interests of agricultural food production and the preservation of natural biodiversity.

Prof Dijkuizen said the “Wageningen Approach” to research and education includes building up “interesting new alliances and internationalisation.” The director of the International Agricultural Centre of Wageningen UR, A Bram Huijsman, told the Okyenhene that from “our shared common aims we can build a joint programme.”

He said the Dutch university was committed to supporting the Okyenhene in the establishment of the agricultural university in Ghana. “We should really invest and develop that cooperation,” he assured. Admitting, though that this collaborative commitment requires funding, he ended on an optimistic note, “the money is not the problem, I think we can find the money.”

In response, the Okyenhene thanked the authorities of Wageningen UR, first, for the invitation and then for their expressed commitment to support the aspiration to emulate their institute of excellence back home in Ghana. Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin expressed the belief that the two institutions could combine forces to attract funding.

Making his presentation, the project advisor for the proposed university and land law expert, Kwame Gyan, told the meeting, Okyeman has extensive natural resource endowment. However, given the challenges confronting environmental protection and management in Okyeman, it is imperative for the “requisite human resource and skills to be developed and utilised to support the laudable goals of sustainable development in Okyeman in particular, and Ghana in general. The provision of equal opportunity in the fields of education and skills development is therefore, a pivotal component of the overall Okyeman strategy for moving forward.”

He noted that Article 25(2) of the 1992 Constitution provides that every person shall have the right at his own expense to establish and maintain a school at all levels and of such categories. “Empowered by the Constitution, Okyeman seeks to establish a University whose curriculum will focus on teaching, research and extension services in the fields of Environment and Agriculture.” Mr Gyan also spoke about the strategic attraction of the proposed location for the main campus. The “proposed location would be the choice institution for a potentially large student population. The University of Ghana is located in Legon, Accra while the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is located further north in Kumasi. In this regard, in terms of proximity, the Bunso campus would be very competitive, indeed.”

A few miles away from Bunso, is the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana at Tafo. The Plant Genetic Centre run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is also located at Bunso. In addition, the University of Ghana Agricultural Research Station and the Oil Palm Research Institute are also located at Okumaning, near Kade in Okyeman.

“With these centres of excellence in the vicinity of the proposed main campus, access to related disciplines which will lead to a sharing of experiences and facilities are greatly enhanced,” stressed he.

Mr Gyan also touched on the synergy between the main economic activity of Ghana, and Okyeman, in particular, and the proposed university. “Agriculture currently accounts for more than 80 percent of the employment and livelihood in Okyeman. Presently, one needs to train and deploy the requisite skilled personnel support expansion of agricultural productivity to assure increased household incomes and food security.” In addition, he said, “this effort will fit well into the Government's goal of pursuing an agriculture-led industrialisation in Ghana. On mining, plans are far advanced to exploit the bauxite reserves of the Atiwa Range. It is expected that the products of the University as well as its research orientation and output will position Okyeman to reap the full benefit of its natural resource endowment in a sustainable manner.”

It is expected that the establishment of the University will bring enhanced economic activity in the catchment area. Industries and service providers will emerge to support the students and staff. It will further lead to the opening up of satellite communities and generally have a positive impact on the livelihoods of the people generally.

The small city of Wageningen revolves around its university, with the city calling itself the “City of Life Sciences.” About 30 per cent of the 35,000 population have earned employment through the university. Welcoming the Okyenhene to the city, at the City Hall, the Mayor of Wageningen, Chris Rutte, told his royal guest of the possibilities of Okyeman emulating his city's experience. He said, through the university, Wageningen is “at the heart of the Dutch agricultural sciences, and at the centre of the Dutch food chain,” adding that his area has “a unique concentration of international knowledge on life sciences, entrepreneurship, research and education.” Internationally renowned Research and Development firms, such as DMV International, Campina Innovation, Wumico Research, Keygene, Seminis Vegetable Seed have all established base in the city, drawing from its university's life sciences resources.

Yesterday, the Okyenhene met with Agnes van Ardenne, the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation. The discussion centred on the proposed collaboration between the Dutch university and Okyeman. His Majesty urged the Dutch government to support the collaboration project. In response, Ms van Ardenne responded that already such funding mechanisms exist. For example, the country's Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Agriculture, Nature management and Fisheries offer funding to Wageningen UR's International Agricultural Centre. The IAC is currently assisting the newly established College of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in building capacity.

The Okyenhene's delegation included the DCEs of East Akyem and Suhum.

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