Howard G. Buffett Foundation and University of Wisconsin – Agricultural Innovation Prize

The Agro-Youth Centre

Deadline: 28 Feb 2014

The Agricultural Innovation Prize is jointly sponsored by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the University of Wisconsin to encourage teams of university students to identify how to achieve food security for the world’s population while keeping within sound environmental boundaries. The competition invites business plans that focus on a process, product, service, or technology. The competition is open to teams comprising at least 50% students (U.S. and/or international) who are enrolled half-time or more at accredited U.S. colleges and universities. Cash prizes are US$100 thousand for the winning team, US$25 thousand for finalists, and travel grants to enable 25 teams to make presentations. Online entries are invited between 01 December 2013 and 28 February 2014.Click here for details and application.

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Royal Agricultural University – Land and Food Fellowships for Africans 2014-2015

Kalu Samuel's Blog

Deadline: 03 Jan 2014

The UK’s Royal Agricultural University offers fellowships to African students for the MSc in international rural development, and MSc in sustainable agriculture and food security.

Royal Agricultural University seeks applicants who have experience in agriculture and related subjects; an interest in land reform; and a desire to make a strategic and sustainable contribution to Africa’s development. The program supports up to 10 African fellows each year. The application deadline is 03 January 2014.

Click here for details and application.

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Protecting the curiosity and experimentation enterprise

Protecting the curiosity and experimentation enterprise*

Raymond Erick Zvavanyange

“Humans like to confront the unknown” (Bruce Alberts)

Not long ago, philosophy embodied the length, breadth and width of inquiry and investigation culminating to knowledge. Advancements in human progress gave birth to the fragmentation of the body of knowledge into disciplines – natural and social sciences. Deference to budget cuts, time lines and polarity in commitments  as now in the U.S. threatens the curiosity and experimentation enterprise. For example, basic and advanced science faces such challenges which are threatening a noble tradition of liberal and unfettered minds, ingenuity and originality.     

The practice of science is the rigorous application of thought and action as well as writing to a calculated human endeavour. To add on, in order to achieve high-quality science, a scientific attitude is necessary and must be cultivated. The cultivation of a scientific attitude gives humans the ability to focus on the essentials of areas of inquiry or study. What then emerge is an agile people and institutions geared and better positioned to seize opportunities within and around Mother Nature.   

Again, there is a thin line between issues of faith especially and the advancement of science. In certain instances, such as the “Galileo era”, this warrants a detachment from religious establishments giving rise to free minds and free spaces –in addressing the “unknown” domains.  

Another interesting area where curiosity and experimentation is at most risk – guidance is within the “youth bulge”, a growing phenomenon in developing economies. Because the youth bulge is in urgent need of curiosity, talent and ambition for visible scientific careers, mentoring and succession plans must be in place. Young minds including women must be trained to commit to solving important problems.   

 Here are more suggestions (can be generic as well):   

  •  Promote interactions aimed at dissecting scientific problems both in thought and action;  
  •  Create networks that focus on the usefulness of scientific advancements and progress;     
  •  Safeguarding curiosity and experimentation. Recently, the domain of science seems to be shifting emphasis to humans as the sole object of study over nature, objects of nature and natural phenomenon. As a consequence, today’s scientific enterprise impacts may be fully realized in behavioural sciences (cognitive processes) into how man navigates “truths” at the expense of a balance between such and technological advancements;  
  •  Strengthen research and teaching institutions, scientific and professional societies and science academies;  
  •  Grand prizes and competitions are only useful when they motivate young minds to be the next frontier of human progress and achievement;  
  • Distinguish between “democratic science” and “disinterested science”. The former is fuelled by consensus while the latter thrives on spontaneity, doubt and scepticism; and    
  • Lastly, the debates on the art excluding the method and tools of science are largely a media and public domain interest. The agile investigator must continue to put trust in his method and tools!  

*Constructive feedback encouraged.

 Further reading

  1. A Summary of the Fact/Value Dichotomy
  2. Fred N. Finley and M, Cecilia Pocovi. Considering the Scientific Method of Inquiry
  3. Commencement Address of Richard P. Feynman at Caltech (1974). Cargo Cult Science
  4. U.S. National Academies of Engineering. Engineer of 2020. Washington DC: New York