Shifting from Outreach to Engagement: Transforming Universities' response to current development trends in agricultural research and training in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa

Challenge
Agriculture is recognised as key to the economic recovery of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), but is currently characterised by low productivity, as elsewhere on the continent.

Governments and development agencies are working to revitalise the agricultural sector, and thus boost overall economic performance, through the African Union’s (AU) Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). The CAADP outlines an African-led agricultural strategy for economic growth, for instance by enhancing agricultural research and technology dissemination and adoption. To support implementation of the strategy, efforts are underway to develop capacity within the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES). Unfortunately, the human capital equipped with the skills to guide innovative approaches to agricultural development is lacking in most SSA countries. This is also the case at universities, which should be leading in innovation on agricultural productivity. But university research and training curricula are still too subject-based and do not respond to the multi-faceted challenges of poverty and other development needs.

Focus
The project will facilitate the creation of responsive university programmes (research, education and outreach) that deliver competent graduates to support farmers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to establish sustainable agro-food value chains.

The project is a pilot response by SSA universities that will build the capacity to transfer graduates’ skills, addressing current and future development challenges through experiential learning research programmes.

Rationale
The shift in focus from simple agro-production to value chains requires a complete shift in graduates’ knowledge and skills. Traditionally, universities have concentrated on teaching students about field production. Yet the current economic context demands that graduates are also trained in post-field production activities such as agro-processing, marketing and negotiations. Moreover, the development of agro-processing and marketing have not received the level of research support they deserve, which have resulted in weak linkages between researchers and farmers and in a mismatch between what the farmers want and what they actually obtain.

The major hypothesis of the project is that university-led engagement with different actors supporting farming communities and farmers themselves in SSA will allow for joint ownership of research processes and outcomes, leading to improved food security through co-innovation and problem solving. Importantly, it will provide lessons to strengthen university products, with both research and students oriented towards sustainable development. This approach recognizes that we are all ‘learners’. Enabling the engagement will require identification of capacity gaps among university researchers and trainers in delivering competency-based training. This will consequently lead to best practices in experiential learning which can then be integrated into teaching practice.

Method
The project strategy will entail:

  • Identification of best practices and co-design of pilot experiential models with stakeholders.
  • Execution of experiential models on specific value chains in the target countries.
  • Evaluation of effectiveness (functionality) of the models.
  • Creation of a Community of Practice (CoP) and alumni network to support the learning process and for up-scaling.
  • Development and sharing of open education/learning resources and other communication products.
  • Stakeholder meetings to share lessons and to design an up-scaling strategy for strengthening  experiential learning in African universities.
  • Building an intra-ACP and global partnership for peer learning and mutual support.

The project is designed as a progressive series of phases or learning events, allowing for building skills and competency, ongoing practice and reflections, and refining approaches:

Identification of appropriate opportunities for intervention and international best practice on experiential learning models in universities

  • Inception planning meeting to refine implementation strategy.
  • Consultation meetings with stakeholders on experiential learning: regional, national and within universities.
  • Design and implementation of the participatory monitoring, evaluation and learning strategy.
  • Individual and joint meetings between stakeholders to identify communities of practice and to facilitate formation on specific topics.
  • Strengthening of advocacy for project findings (production of communication products, holding “lessons learnt” workshops, attending conferences to promote the visibility of the project).
  • Review of university programmes and those of key stakeholders to identify appropriate areas for integration of experiential learning.
  • Comparative analysis of good practice in experiential learning and integration into the curriculum design and delivery.

Design and development of new and innovative courses and associated training materials based upon an experiential learning process through a collaborative process of co-creation between relevant stakeholders to ensure relevance and sustainability

  • Establishment of a stakeholder group to agree on the key elements and skills to be covered in each curriculum.
  • Design and development of course curricula to include experiential learning.
  • Field visits to explore, facilitate and evaluate universities’ integration of experiential learning into curricula.

Implementation and piloting the experiential learning process and associated projects and training materials within the courses and obtaining feedback to ensure appropriateness and quality

  • Stakeholder meetings to negotiate their role in the project.
  • Identification of students and formation of interdisciplinary groups.
  • Allocation of mentors to students.
  • Delivery of a course in integrated experiential learning.
  • Undertaking field engagement with farmers and agri-businesses.
  • Monitoring the training programmes, field engagements and impact of value chain initiatives on farmers and agro-industry.
  • Integration of lessons into curricula.

Outputs

  • Training, research and outreach programmes reviewed and opportunities for integration of experiential learning into the curriculum identified.
  • An integrated set of industry-responsive, competency-based materials, toolkit modules and training materials to meet the experiential learning requirements of specified courses and curricula.
  • A set of integrated, industry-responsive, experiential, value chain based training, research and outreach programmes piloted.

Outcomes

  • Engagement of multi-stakeholder communities of practice (farmers, industry, extension and universities) to improve student experiential learning.
  • Improved awareness by farmers of specific value chains (at least 90 competent persons knowledgeable on experiential learning).
  • Increased utilisation of improved university-sourced technologies by target stakeholders.
  • Quality and relevance of at least one programme in each university improved.
  • Mechanisms in place to institutionalise experiential learning at each university.
Grant: FED/2009/217080
Project duration: 36 months (from 10/11/2009 to 09/11/2012)
EC funding: EUR 996,999.00
Total budget: EUR 1,172,940.00
Project contact:

Dr. Moses Osiru
Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)
Plot 151 Garden Hill, Makerere University
P.O. Box 7062
Kampala
Uganda
Tel: +256-414-535.939 / +256-759988723
Fax: +256-414-534.153
E-mail: m.osiru [at] ruforum.org; secretariat [at] ruforum.org; c.ntwali [at] ruforum.org
Web: www.ruforum.org

OUTREACH project