As the year 2005 is ending, it is my honor and pleasure to make the point of where our network was and where it currently is in order for us to look together into the future, and make our noble and bold initiative stronger and stronger.
Currently, AGSNet has more than 110 members from 24 African countries studying in 36 Universities worldwide (18 in Africa and 18 outside of Africa).
Early in its infancy AGSNet was invited to the 31st meeting of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) held in New York City, USA from March 21 to 28, 2004. The Network was represented by 6 of its members (4 from Cornell University and one each from Southampton University, UK and Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture, Kenya). A presentation by our representatives during the meeting of the SCN Capacity Building Working Group centered on the contribution of the African Nutrition Graduate Students Network to supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa through enhancing social capacity. The presentation was well received by the audience and some of the aspects of this presentation were included in the recommendations of the capacity building working group.
The Network’s website, (http://archive.unu.edu/capacitybuilding/foodnutrition/ags-net/Index.htm), hosted by the United Nations University has been regularly updated and it has been essential to publicizing the network to the outside world. It now provides access to a rich database of African graduate students studying nutrition and those members who recently graduated. In the next few months, a web-based discussion forum will be established to allow members to share ideas about advances in the field of nutrition. I would particularly like to address a special thank note to Joseph Mensah- Homiah who has made enormous sacrifices to this end. Joseph has spent hours and hours of his precious time working on the website.
The network’s visibility and recognition was also enhanced by the active participation of several of its members to the 19th International Congress of Nutrition (ICN) held in Durban, South Africa in September 2005. Members made oral presentations (15 members), poster presentations (31 members), chaired various sessions (5) and one, Nkosinathi Mbuya, gave a talk during the closing ceremony entitled “Reflections and vision of a young African Nutrition Scientist”. Several members of AGSNet also participated in, and made oral presentations at the 2nd Congress on IT in the Advancement of Nutrition in Africa, held from 16-18 September 2005 in Cape Town, South Africa. The South African sojourn also provided members of the network an opportunity to meet, discuss and liaise with the organizers of the African Nutrition Leadership Program (ANLP), which several members have attended in the past. Other members of AGSNet (Nkosi Mbuya, Folake Samuel, Anne Marie Dembélé, Frederic Grant, Momodou Darboe and Mohamed Ag Ayoya) also participated in the ANLP held in Raaswater, South Africa in November 2005. AGSNet’s coordination will continue advertising and informing its members about this other important African initiative so as they apply and attend future sessions.
AGSNet held its inaugural conference at a meeting that immediately preceded the ICN. The conference was attended by 39 members from 13 African countries studying in 19 universities world wide. Of those only 8 are studying outside the continent (1 in Europe, 2 in Canada and 5 in the United States of America). The conference was also attended by 4 advisors of the network (Julia Taguireyi, Zimbabwe; Pauline Kuzwayo, South Africa; Rosanna Agble, Ghana; Robert Mwademe, Tanzania) and 7 invited guests (Michael Latham, USA/UK/Tanzania; Abraham Todd, Kraft Foods, USA; Barbara Lyle, Kraft Foods, USA; Wafaie Fawzi, Harvard University, USA; Fre Pepping, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; Frans Kok, Wageningen University, The Netherlands and Godwin N’Dossi, Tanzania). Sponsorship to this meeting came from The Food and Nutrition Program of the United Nations University; The International Nutrition Foundation/Kraft foods/Unilever; The German Development Service (GTZ); Cornell University, USA; Wageningen University, The Netherlands; University of Southampton, UK, and Université Cheick Anta Diop, Senegal. Members who attended this meeting discussed and agreed on issues of membership, governance, future activities and directions of the network. Regional representatives for North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and Europe were also elected. Invited guests gave important and relevant addresses to the network. In particular, Prof. Wafaie Fawzi from Harvard University, USA, gave a keynote lecture on Nutrition and Infections, after which the participants broke up into three groups for discussions on assigned topics. These discussions were followed during a plenary session and finally important resolutions were made. Dr. Todd Abraham from Kraft foods spoke on leadership and characteristics of an effective leader. Details about the inaugural conference are available at http://archive.unu.edu/capacitybuilding/foodnutrition/ags-net/Reports/AGSNet_Conference_Report_Final.pdf.
Conference participants resolved that the next meeting of AGSNet will be held in Morocco in 2007, and will coincide with the Federation of African Nutrition Societies (FANUS) meeting. Currently the Network is involved in the following activities:
• Liaising with various organizations to provide access to journals
• Advocating for program to deal with Nutrition & Infection and Nutrition capacity building
• Creating an e-group or discussion board for members of the Network to discuss issues of interest including the nutrition situation in Africa. Sharing of information as regard to fellowships, job opportunities, short-term consultancies, conferences, scholarships, internships, etc.
• Sharing of issues on cutting-edge research
• Sharing of experiences from programmatic activities that may not be found in journals. The Network should link up with other networks or organized groups that are involved in keeping and disseminating such program information to ensure effective propagation. Such linkages will assist in keeping the research agenda (of AGSNet members) relevant to the needs of Africa.
• Reaching to graduate students with the aim of doubling our membership by 2007
• Setting up AGSNet country structures
• Country members are to organize educative programs/activities in dealing with nutrition and infection
To start addressing one of the most crucial difficulties students face in Africa, i.e. the access to scientific literature, AGSNet has made arrangements with the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation based at Cornell University, and the enLINK initiative of the Nestlé Foundation to provide and/or inform its members about access to papers published in some of the high impact nutrition journals. Reports of great satisfaction were obtained from those who used these services so far.
Regional representatives have made remarkable progress in advancing AGSNet’s vision in their respective countries/regions, and I would like to applaud them for that. Two countries have formally established local AGSNet structures. These are Nigeria and Morocco. In both countries, these structures have made an excellent work of recruiting new members and making AGSNet known among professional health and nutrition national organizations. I congratulate the steering committees of those countries, and urge members in other countries to follow this example. By the end of 2006, we should aim at having at least 10 country AGSNet structures in Africa. This should be among our top priorities. The international steering committee remains more than ever committed to support and encourage existing country structures and the creation of new ones.
The coordination team and several other members have been very active in looking for information about scholarships and nutrition events/conferences, which they have shared with the whole membership. These efforts will continue and be strengthened.
The African Nutrition Graduate Students Network will certainly keep on growing, and will need the contribution of every one of us. We have made great achievements over this year because of the active involvement of every member. I have no doubt that this participation will increase during the coming year, and that by the end of 2006, we will have more to be proud of. I am confident that this is possible and that we can do it!
I would like to thank you for your commitment and sustained support to the network. I also would like to acknowledge the support and the contributions to this report of my colleagues Joseph Mensah-Homiah, Nkosinathi Mbuya, Jacqueline Kung’u, and our advisor Cutberto Garza.
I also would like to take advantage of the end of the year to wish you all a very Happy New Year 2006. Through each day of the New Year, may peace, success and happiness be yours.
Finally, always remember throughout this coming year Dr. Horwitz’s message in which he urged us to “Keep the faith that we are committed to a most noble cause, the well-being of people whom we do not know but whose needs we feel intensely”. This is a very powerful message, in which I am sure each one of us recognizes her/himself.
Together we can make a difference in Africa, and we will!
Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Coordinator