Strengthening Africa’s Strategic Agricultural Capacity
Impact on Development
A transformative programme
In sub-Saharan Africa, those who live in rural areas comprise approximately 70 percent of the total population. By 2030, due to urbanization, it is projected that rural people will represent 58 percent of the total population. Rural populations in Africa depend almost entirely on agriculture and the exploitation of natural resources for their livelihoods and development. Despite the tremendous technological developments in the world, African agriculture has remained small scale, low input, rain-fed and low-tech. It also suffers from heavy competition from ‘cheap’ imported products. Major transformations are needed for agriculture to take its place in driving development. Key among the changes necessary is that of agricultural institutions.
Many country and regional policies and strategic plans recognize agriculture as the backbone of their economy. However, they do not explicitly link agricultural education to the ambitions to achieve rural or agro-industry development. Tertiary agricultural education must take centre stage in the institutional reform hierarchy as well as the development process if the goals are to be achieved.
Recent challenges such as climate change and the role of biotechnology are not only poorly understood, but are in fact new to agricultural education and some institutions do not have the expertise to teach these topics. In addition, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa will face increased water stress by 2020. In some African countries, the yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020.
Education and training in agriculture is a strategic priority if we are to achieve food security, eradicate malnutrition and poverty, and spur development in rural Africa. Well designed and targeted tertiary agricultural education (TAE) can provide scientific expertise, technical innovations and training in strategic areas of education for rural people, industry and policy makers. Agricultural education in its current form is not effectively targeted or structured to deliver on such an ambitious programme.
There are close to 100 universities and colleges in Africa that teach agriculture and natural resource sciences. African universities were initially meant to simply raise human resources to meet public sector needs. This has long petered off and many graduates end up jobless because the industries which would have absorbed them are not yet developed, and they have not been prepared to establish their own businesses. Neither are there adequate support systems, financial or otherwise, to enable self-employment. The challenge today is for TAE institutions to link their programmes more effectively to community and industrial development. Such a move would justify the continued investment in TAE. The following weaknesses have been identified in current agricultural education programmes:
- The overall objectives of the programmes are poorly articulated and they often do not explicitly refer to community and industrial development. This shows a context deficit which ANAFE has pointed out and tried to address;
- The curricula are still largely unsuitable and incoherent, obviously after lots of patchwork to add present-day issues. Current TAE is a mosaic of many reviews, each adding on some aspect but not providing sufficient articulation of the overall vision, mission and objectives. Complete reviews are urgently needed;
- Due partly to limited resources and also to inadequate training of educators, the tools, methods and quality of teaching and learning are weak, especially with respect to practicum;
- There is poor understanding of the integrative nature of land use disciplines, particularly regarding the links between farming and nature conservation;
- The business and industrial development aspects are not well articulated, particularly in academic research. Teaching tends to reinforce production and subsistence;
- Local innovations and links with local communities are very weak, at a time when the population of jobless rural youth is growing;
- Despite the fact that women are the main players in agriculture, they represent only 15-18 percent of the student population.
THE SASACID PROGRAMME
Higher technical education is increasingly recognized as a critical aspect of the development process, especially with the growing awareness of the role of science, technology and innovation in economic renewal. Nowhere is this truer than in agriculture. The challenges include building human capacity and transmitting technical skills to succeeding generations, which underscores the urgency to expand women’s access to higher technical education.
SASACID is a sub-Saharan Africa university network that specifically addresses the challenges facing tertiary agriculture education. Its overall objective is to raise the quality and relevance of agricultural education at the tertiary level to encompass the cross-cutting issues that are pertinent to attaining sustainable and profitable agriculture and to develop new cadres of professionals capable of assuming key roles in national, regional and international agricultural science, extension, business and policy.
The proposed interventions are encapsulated in the following six projects:
- Refocusing agricultural learning objectives and improving curricula;
- Establishing the capacity of agricultural scientists to develop relevant learning resources based on African knowledge and experiences;
- Building capacity for innovation systems approach: linking agricultural policy with research, education, industry and practice;
- Strengthening capacity for agri-business education and training, particularly strengthening the interest and capacity of women and youth to take up careers in agriculture;
- Managing risk and uncertainty in agriculture, including agrochemicals, biosafety and climate change;
- Strengthening methods for teaching and learning and enhancing Agricultural Information and Knowledge Management.
LINK TO THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS
|Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger||Agriculture underwrites livelihoods of rural poor. Proper development and application of agricultural knowledge depends to a large extend on the tertiary education institutions. Effective education, in addition to producing useful graduates, can lead to improvement and evolution of institutions, science and practice.|
|Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education||Graduates of tertiary education play an important role in education programmes at all lower levels of education.|
|Goal 3. Promote gender equity and empower women||Although women play a major role in agricultural productivity in Africa, they are often disadvantaged in terms of access to tertiary agricultural education and access to new knowledge. SASACID will study and apply approaches and means that improve the situation for women and youth, including provision of scholarships.|
|Goal 4. Reduce child mortality||Rural development is inextricably linked to agricultural development. By bringing about agricultural improvements, the programme will improve nutrition and reduce environmental pollutants that are injurious to health.|
|Goal 5. Improve maternal health||The programme will facilitate improved access to food and nutrition for women.|
|Goal 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases||Foods rich in minerals and vitamins play a vital role in boosting body immunity. In teaching programmes, attention will be paid to addressing the role of agriculture in combating HIV/AIDS. Domestication of valuable plants into agriculture will build on traditional knowledge (herbal products etc).|
|Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability||Climate change/variation risks have impact on land use, especially sustainability of agriculture. Remedial measures include mechanisms that ensure sustenance of land productivity and especially measures that preserve the local environment.|
|Goal 8. Develop a global partnership for development||The programme will bring together a wide range of stakeholders in agricultural education, research and industry.|
LINK TO POVERTY AND RIGHTS
Prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa is closely related to agriculture. Poor performance in this area threatens livelihoods and reinforces poverty. This is projected to remain so for at least another two decades. The right to basic human needs in Africa will continue to be elusive as long as food security is not assured for every person. Food aid often comes with conditions, and the mode of distribution using middle-men usually infringes on human rights.
LINK TO EXTENSION
Currently, extension programmes in many countries are quite weak. They lack facilities and resources to reach needy farmers in remote areas, but they are also quite few, due to structural adjustment programmes which reduced public support for this area. The assumption that private sector would take the mantle has not worked, because poor farmers cannot afford to pay for extension services.
The philosophy behind SASACID is building the capacity to build capacity; a mantra originated and popularized by ANAFE. In this programme, tertiary agricultural education institutions will articulate their education objectives to include responsibility for rural community development. Thus, they will have faculty and student support programmes for producer organizations, farmer field schools, NGOs, CBOs and agro-industries. Additionally, they will target all thesis and special project research to solve clearly identified and prioritized problems. Regular training programmes will be developed for extension personnel, but more importantly, the renewed education objectives and priorities will encourage serious investment in agriculture and agro-industry, thus stimulating employment. There will also be a major transformation, with more women getting engaged in extension services.
WHY A REGIONAL APPROACH?
There is no doubt that each country is responsible for its own education programmes, be they in agriculture or other disciplines. However, there are actions that can benefit from a common approach, particularly in terms of economies of scale, sharing of experiences, improved integration and better utilization of scarce human resources. These are the principles underpinning the development of SASACID as a regional programme.
BENEFITS AND BENEFICIARIES
The primary beneficiaries will be all institutions participating in the programme. Ultimate beneficiaries will be the users of agricultural science and innovations, mainly comprising farmers, rural communities, agro-industries and businesses. Countries will benefit from improved returns to their investment in agricultural education.
We envisage the following benefits from the regional approach:
- It provides opportunities to learn from successful cases (e.g. extension training by Sasakawa Global 2000 in West Africa; Earth University in Costa Rica) which can be used as models and adapted for other institutions;
- In many areas of specialization there are very few experts. Through faculty exchange programmes, we can mobilize them as trainers as well as implementers of programmes beyond their own countries. This means effective use of rare capacity;
- Common tools and methods can be developed or adapted, for instance in the review of curricula
- In the development of learning resources it is necessary to put together experiences from different socio-economic and environmental settings;
- The opportunity to minimize duplicity and develop complementary programmes will be created through this approach;
- There is a benefit in many countries working together in the same direction. It creates a force that is likely to be recognized as it is shared at many forums;
- The learning materials to be developed jointly and shared widely through various media;
- Peer pressure will work to ensure that those institutions lagging behind in the transformation do catch up; and
- The various networks and organizations operating at global, regional and sub-regional levels can easily participate in and contribute to the process.
Many activities will take place at the institutional and country levels, because that is where the changes are needed. However, regional coordination will provide a balanced oversight and support and facilitate more efficient use of available capacity.
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