The Evolution of Agricultural Education and Training: Global Insights of Relevance for Africa
Today, it is conventional wisdom to speak of knowledge resources as being central to a nation's competitiveness and its economic destiny. Such wisdom gains urgency when one is discussing biotechnology and the African farmer. Two statistics highlight the dilemma of the African farmer. First, the average yield of food staples has been flat since independence in 1960. Second, there are 48 countries in Africa and only one (South Africa) of these is producing genetically modified (GM) crops commercially. Why? The answer is that most government and university research systems in Africa are producing only a trickle of new technology and improved farm practices. Consequently, African nations are severely challenged to invest in generating new knowledge for increasing agricultural productivity. This paper is part of a larger World Bank study of agricultural education and training (AET) in Sub-Saharan Africa. It focuses on the institution-building experience of countries outside Africa. Eight countries were selected for an analysis of the evolution of financially sustainable faculties of agriculture and national agricultural research systems. Four are industrial countries and four are classified as lower/ middle income countries. One of the major conclusions is that the political systems in many African countries have neglected agriculture. Africans have committed only about one-third to one-half of the public investment in agriculture as did their Asian counterparts during Asia's Green Revolution during the sixties and seventies. . Another major finding is that building an interactive system of three core institutions-research, education and extension-has been, and will remain, a multi-generational challenge. In the case studies of the United States, Japan and Brazil, the average duration for developing a financially sustainable system of these three core institutions ranged from 40 to 60 years. Many African governments and donors are currently myopic about investing in higher agricultural education. But with dwindling opportunities for overseas study, African universities will ultimately be responsible for training and replenishing the stock of human capital in their respective nations' research and extension services. Many recent studies of human capital, including training, education and health, have shown that human capital can contribute to worker productivity and agricultural growth. Yet in spite of the donor cutback of support for human capital improvement programs in Africa, the linkages between overseas and African universities have continued to evolve. Expanding information technology capacities are opening the electronic door for novel institutional partnerships to improve AET in Africa. Based on a global literature review and the experience of a number of donors and African countries, it is proposed that the World Bank prepare an Africa AET Plan with a 30-year time frame for strengthening AET in Africa. Phase I covering the first 15 years of the Plan can be prepared by drawing on the global and African experience, a few additional studies commissioned by the Bank, and discussions with stakeholders in Africa and with other donors. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that building a science-based AET system to manage the transition from overseas training to M.Sc. and Ph.D. training within Africa is a time consuming, complex and costly process. The tentative budget for Phase I of the Plan is USD 1 billion to train 1,000 African PhDs in all fields of agriculture while strengthening the teaching and research capacity of African universities and faculties of agriculture. In the process, some difficult choices will have to be made regarding the most cost-effective strategies to boost the capacity of African universities and national research systems to increase agricultural productivity.
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- Eicher, Carl K., 1999. "Institutions and the African Farmer," Distinguished Economist Lectures 7660, CIMMYT: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
- Saint, W.S., 1992. "Universities in Africa; Strategies for Stabilization and Revitalization," Papers 194, World Bank - Technical Papers.
- Anderson, Jock R. & Feder, Gershon, 2007. "Agricultural Extension," Handbook of Agricultural Economics, Elsevier.
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