Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

AET and Development – What are We Learning?

This post was written by Gitau Mbure, Senior Technical Advisor for Agriculture and Natural Resource Management at World Vision

I really enjoyed the recent conversations on agriculture education and training (AET) as featured on Agrilinks, and I’m delighted to comment further on this topic. As I was reflecting, I couldn’t help but wonder how AET links with development programs funded by USAID. As an AET graduate working in development, I have experienced an evolution that I could not have been fully prepared for when I entered the job market more than 12 years ago. As typically happens, what you learn in college is just a start. Real-life education engenders as you seek to employ your skills—through the growth resulting from experience in the workplace.  

In his recent presentation, Dr. T. Grady Roberts explored linkages between various aspects of AET systems including linkages between AET and industry as well as AET and extension, both areas of great interest for development practitioners. There is no doubt that AET contributes greatly to development programs; what might be less obvious is how development programs contribute to AET. This is despite the fact that development programs absorb and help mold a significant portion of AET graduates in the workforce. To eradicate extreme poverty, there is going to be greater need to streamline linkages between AET and development. But what are these linkages and how can they be strengthened?

First, it is important to acknowledge that development programs are a significant field of employment for AET graduates. Any given Feed the Future project will typically have a decent share of agronomists, animal scientists, agricultural economists and food technologists on staff. While such graduates have specialized technical skills in agriculture, their effectiveness is determined by their ability to apply these abilities to address the causes of poverty and malnutrition among the most vulnerable. It is thus important for formal institutions to prepare AET graduates to work in development as a specialized field. Some institutions of higher learning are doing this by offering agriculture students courses in international and community development. But more needs to be done, for example, to create internship opportunities for AET students in development programs; to enable AET institutions to track the evolution of graduates working in development in order to understand what skills are most valuable; and to encourage development practitioners to provide input in design of courses and where possible offer seminars at AET institutions. 

Secondly, it’s important to recognize that there is a lot of training that happens within development projects. AET graduates will often be expected to design capacity building programs for project and government extension workers who work directly with communities. This means it is important for AET graduates to be trained as trainers. I also believe that AET institutions can help improve the management of training that happens within projects. Let’s take the example of the “Farming as a Business” course, popularly known as FaaB. An online search (see examples herehere and here) shows that various projects have developed different manuals for FaaB training with little effort made to standardize approaches and concepts. AET institutions are well placed to develop structured certification programs for such courses by working closely with development programs.

Certification can also be done for community-based trainers who work with development projects that may not necessarily be graduates of formal AET education. For example in Malawi, the USAID funded WALA project sought to increase food security for 214,974 vulnerable households in eight districts of southern Malawi between 2009 and 2014. One of the objectives of the projects was to strengthen market linkages for smallholder farmers. Among the activities done to meet this goal was establishment of a network of village agents referred to as agribusiness service providers or ASPs. The ASP initiative was designed to address the last mile distribution challenge whereby farmers in remote rural areas failed to access essential services and products primarily due to poor infrastructure. ASPs were recruited from the villages they worked and trained to facilitate linkages between farmers and service providers including buyers, input suppliers, and government/NGO programs. WALA developed a certification program for ASPs that included a screening exam to select candidates with the best potential, training them on various topics that address farmer needs and eventually providing accreditation for successful graduates. 

Training for ASPs was provided by government extension workers, project staff and also by private sector companies. The training was implicitly practical and designed to address day-to-day problems that smallholder farmers faced such as aggregation and bulk marketing of commodities, access to affordable inputs by building economies of scale, etc. ASP candidates were mostly high school drop-outs with no formal vocational training. Not only did the ASP initiative offer them an opportunity to gain employable skills such as community mobilization and marketing, the initiative empowered targeted women by boosting their confidence to lead in a field dominated by men through coaching and mentoring.  

Development programs should not only seek to work hand-in-hand with AET institutions to improve the quality and delivery of training, but also to sustain management of knowledge. Translation of materials into local vernacular is challenging for many development projects and this is an area where AET institutions can provide much needed assistance. In addition, AET institutions can adopt training materials originally developed for projects, with the aim of maintaining a resource library accessible to local communities after a project ends. They can also help monitor the effectiveness of such materials over time by gathering and incorporating feedback from users even after a project ends. AET institutions can also work with development programs to establish and enrich localized learning networks or communities of practice around critical themes such as the integration of gender and nutrition into agriculture. 

The opportunities to strengthen the linkages for AET in development programs are bountiful, but require greater collaboration among AET stakeholders. More needs to be done to strengthen partnerships between AET institutions and development programs in developing countries. Implementers can aspire to do more, and donors should influence and facilitate greater engagement among funded AET and development programs.

This post was written by Gitau Mbure. Gitau serves as Senior Technical Advisor for Agriculture and Natural Resource Management at World Vision. He is responsible for providing technical oversight for grant-funded projects including standard setting, tools development, capacity building, and monitoring and evaluation. Mr. Mbure has over 15 years of experience in agriculture development and has worked in variety of technical and managerial leadership roles in the US and Africa. Currently, Mr. Mbure directly supports integrated food security programs in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Africa University in Zimbabwe and a Master’s degree in Resource Economics from the University of Delaware.