RELEVANCE of EDUCATION in AGRIBUSINESS

Reducing poverty in Africa is the world’s supreme development challenge, and growing the agricultural sector is key to achieving a transformational impact. The agricultural economy employs 65–70 percent of Africa’s labor force. Agricultural production is the most important sector in most African countries, averaging 24 percent of GDP on the region. Agribusiness input supply, processing, marketing, and retailing add about 20 percent of GDP. Agriculture and agribusiness together account for nearly half of GDP in Africa.

Since 60 to 80 percent of the African population resides in rural areas, a revitalized agricultural sector would generate rural employment opportunities and reduce rural poverty.

In some countries in Africa growth rates for agriculture were much higher than those for manufacturing and only slightly lower than those from industry and services. Since economic progress depends on shifting resources from agriculture to other productive sectors, the necessity of increasing productivity in the agricultural sector comes sharply into focus. Given the relative importance of the agricultural sector in the economies of most African countries, addressing economic growth and development at national level continues to require significant attention to rural areas and to agricultural productivity in order to enable rural farmers to produce sufficient surplus to grow their local economies.

Significant gains have been experienced in the course of last two decades in the pure agronomical front, although it´s still not enough to shift productivity rates to where these are in other parts of the world. At the same time, in a parallel path, progress has happened in the marketability of crops and ultimately, in the profitability of farms; some value chains have taken-off, awareness on the need to sell and not just produce, softening of trade barriers,  etc, are rooting in the mindset of stakeholders. However, again, the performance is far from where it should be and that of the potential enclosed.

It is intuitive to say that “education is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for economic development.” This implies that while education is essential, additional factors are also necessary (employment opportunities, favorable business climate, etc.). Other causes may intervene to negate the benefits of education (conflict, corruption, etc.). This makes it difficult to provide clear empirical quantification of the relation between increased education and economic performance or to make comparisons between countries.

But there´s no doubt that agricultural training and education have a direct impact on agricultural productivity and on the performance of ancillary businesses and trade. They also stimulate implementation of knowledge-driven economic growth strategies and poverty reduction.


The focus of development has turned from agriculture to rural development recognizing that conventional farming was beginning to produce many undesirable side effects such as soil degradation, erosion, polluted water, and, with irrigation, salinization. The term rural development recognizes the linkages between agriculture, natural resources, human settlement, and biodiversity. It further recognizes that sustainable development requires the cooperation and inputs of other sectors such as infrastructure, education, health, and energy. It is now evident that the sustainable development of the rural areas will depend on non-farm employment in addition to agriculture.

One of the current challenges to agricultural education is how to meet the challenge of providing education and training for rural development rather than for agriculture alone. It is clear that the older curriculum that concentrated on production agriculture is no longer able to produce educated people who can deal with the wider problems of rural development.

In most parts of Africa food security is still a critical issue and therefore food production will continue to be a major focus of universities and other agricultural education institutions for some time to come. The delivery of quality education and training is a major challenge.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to view agricultural education from the perspective of the university or the diploma granting college or the farmer’s training center alone. We are accustomed to thinking about the university as the center of the education system and indeed we should, for African universities will be the primary source of human capital for agricultural research agencies as well as the source of future academic staff members. However, the graduates of the university are influential in many ways in the staffing, management, funding, and operation of the Colleges, training centers, research centers, and extension services suggesting that education and training is part of a system which serves the agricultural sector. Increasingly, the pressure is on for the system to serve not only agriculture but the needs of the broader rural sector.

After decades of neglect, agriculture is again receiving attention from African governments, investors, and other partners, but their attention should extend to agribusiness. Based on this framework, we can see the relationship between economic growth, poverty reduction, agricultural development, and agricultural education.

 

FROM AGRICULTURE TO AGRIBUSINESS

The central role of agriculture in economic growth and development in Africa has long been widely recognized. World wide, agriculture has had an amazing success record. Despite serious droughts; despite floods and storms; despite the ravages of pests; and an exploding increase in population, the production of food has never been better. We have defeated the threat of mass starvation. Success has been assured by the scientists, teachers, and extension workers who discovered, transmitted and disseminated vital  technological findings to the farming public.

Yet, there is a constant pressure on the universities and other education and training institutions to adjust to the realities of change. As with so many aspects of development, agricultural education in Africa (and elsewhere) now faces rapid and often perplexing changes in the environments in which it exists. It faces a variety of challenges and dilemmas, but also of new opportunities and possibilities.

agricultural education.001

Figure I. From traditional AET to Agribusiness centered educ. and training

Because agro-industries are uniquely situated between raw and natural sources of supply and the dynamics of food and fibre demand, promotion of agro-enterprise development can provide positive impacts on employment in both rural and urban areas; offer market access to small-holder agriculture; present business linkages to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and enhance food security by reducing post-harvest losses and extending the shelf-life of food and fibre for the rapidly increasing urban poor. The combined effects of employment gains and food security through improved agro-industry competitiveness becomes an important strategy for reducing the overall poverty within developing countries.

Developing strong and viable agro-industries requires a different mix of skills, policies and institutions from the traditional, mostly farmer focused ones. Agribusinesses have a different objective function—maximizing profits—and often require an enabling environment to thrive. To fill this gap, a multitude of new policies, initiatives and institutions have emerged in developing countries in the last two decades. These interventions, mostly designed to facilitate the participation of SMEs, include warehouse receipts, business clusters, micro-finance institutions, technology parks, business development services, contract farming and public investment in transport and infrastructure investments. Much has been written about both the theoretical basis and the empirical evidence of these interventions. The role of AET in fostering agribusiness growth in developing countries is, however, relatively under-explored.

Perhaps the hardest aspect to change about training and education for agribusiness is the overall paradigm that governs our approach to the subject. Traditional AET has existed and has been institutionalized over many decades. It is mostly these same institutions that are now taking on the challenge of building capacity for the agribusiness sector. This makes sense from an efficiency point of view as it maximizes economies of scale and integrates agribusinesses to traditional fields of AET.

However, this approach forces the subject matter of agribusiness to fit into the rather static infrastructure and ideologies which were developed for traditional agricultural fields –mostly farming. In so doing, we miss the opportunity to challenge existing paradigms for AET that have not kept pace with recent dynamics in the macro-environment. Figure 1 illustrates some key areas for which a new paradigm is the need in shifting from traditional AET to an Agribusiness centered education and training.

First, the approach needs to shift from producing disciplinarians with a narrow but in-depth knowledge base to producing well rounded professionals with requisite skills to get the job done. Secondly, graduates of AET need to be more competitive and employable not just in government departments but within the general market that now includes private agribusiness. Likewise, the production orientation that seems to govern traditional orientation needs to be replaced by a market oriented approach that prioritizes meeting consumers’ needs. Unfortunately, most institutions are designed to defend the status quo and hence change might take very long to develop and implement. An interim strategy might be to give some degree of autonomy or flexibility to agribusiness education and training programs.

The attention focused on production agriculture will not achieve its developmental goals in isolation from agribusinesses, ranging from small and medium enterprises to multinational companies. The challenge is thus threefold: develop downstream agribusiness activities (such as processing) as well as upstream activities (such as supplying inputs), develop commercial agriculture, and support and link smallholders and small enterprises to productive value chains.

While the status of AET in Africa has been under analysis within the past decade, focus on agribusiness per se has been limited. It is undisputed that the market for students graduating from agricultural science departments has changed significantly over the years from mainly government sector to private agribusiness sector and non-profit organizations. Historically, African countries based their agricultural education and training systems on meeting the human resource requirements of public service or parastatals. Most graduates found employment in the government civil service.

By international standards African Universities are very young, dating from the 1960s when the independence movement began to gain momentum. The African universities have achieved much in a short time, but now the changing global scenario and the need to adapt are challenging these institutions greatly.

While significant progress has been made in integrating agribusiness management into university curricula, the current offerings are far from comprehensive. Demand for agribusiness leadership and management has come from an industry characterized by evolving structures and business models. Academic institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide education and training are struggling to meet the new demand for skills for the emerging agribusiness sector in terms of number of people trained, quality of training programmes and relevancy of skills offered. Further complicating the matter, very little research has been done to understand the current dynamics in academic as well as executive training for agribusiness in Africa. Consequently, investors, NGOs, public-policy makers and leaders of academic institutions often make key decisions on how to adapt to this changing agribusiness environment with limited information and expertise on the subject.

Today’s agribusiness managers have to contend a broad range of socio-economic issues such as gender, conflict resolution, technological advancements, environmental sustainability, natural disasters, global economic crisis and ever-changing socio-political dynamics that are part of the agribusiness operating environment. It is the responsibility of academic institutions and other capacity-building organizations to churn out the type and number of graduates that are able to tackle not only today’s challenges, but future ones that are yet unknown. This will require great vision, careful planning and perhaps institutional innovation that departs from traditional paradigms.

 MODERNIZING AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION

Two important regional trends shape the larger context for such an undertaking and reinforce efforts to modernize agricultural education in Africa, particularly at the postsecondary level. The first is the growing attention to, and conceptualization of, “agricultural innovation systems.” This is an increasingly popular concept in the study of how societies generate, exchange, and use knowledge and information (World Bank 2006). It is believed to add value to previous conceptualizations of agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (AKIS) by (1) drawing attention to the totality of actors needed for innovation and growth; (2) consolidating the role of the private sector and the importance of interactions within a sector; and (3) emphasizing the outcomes of technology generation and adoption rather than the strengthening of research systems and their outputs. An agricultural innovation system (AIS) can be defined as comprising the organizations, enterprises, and individuals that interact to demand and supply agricultural knowledge and technology, as well as the institutions and policy incentives that influence their performance. The purpose of AIS is to accelerate the movement of ideas, create marketable products, and promote economic competitiveness. Figure 2 presents a graphic representation of an agricultural innovation system.

As shown, an agricultural innovation system framework embeds AET within a larger, more complex system of diverse agents whose interactions are conditioned by formal and informal socioeconomic institutions. The framework captures not only the influences of market forces, but also the impacts of organizational learning and behavioral change, non market institutions, and public policy processes (e.g., labor, regulatory, science and technology, environmental, energy, industrial, trade, intellectual property).

An important contribution of the innovation systems framework is that it shifts the analysis from a conventional model of one-way information transfers to a more complex, process-based systems approach. This shift is appropriate for the study of AET given that agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa is more and more influenced by complex interactions among public, private, and civil society actors, and increasingly conditioned by a variety of rapidly changing institutions. Specifically, the AIS approach focuses analytical and policy attention on the capacity of individuals and organizations to learn and innovate, on organizational cultures and behaviors that facilitate (or impede) this process, and on networks and dealings among innovation agents .

The second trend is a groundswell of attention to the relevance and organization of tertiary education systems on the continent. This is driven by rising awareness of the role of human capital formation in enabling national productivity and growth to improve within an increasingly integrated and competitive global economy. This awareness is generating a more systematic and market-oriented approach to education sector development, which recognizes the backward linkages of tertiary education to secondary (and primary) education, as well as its forward linkages to employment, employers, and the general labor market.

The reform agenda associated with this enhanced understanding of tertiary education revolves around the visions and mandates for various types of tertiary institutions, their relevance to national development priorities, greater stakeholder representation in their institutional governance, increased autonomy (with accountability) in institutional management, changes in curricula and teaching practices, improvements in incentive systems for academic staff, alternative financing strategies, public-private partnerships, and the realization of new opportunities arising in science and technology.

One example of how these two trends may converge is the 2003 Jinja Consensus, which calls for the creation of a new African agricultural university to produce a distinct generation of agricultural graduates who will become entrepreneurs and wealth creators rather than cogs in the wheels of existing public agricultural education, research, and extension organizations. It calls for tertiary education to be grounded in student-centered learning in which instructors facilitate rather than direct the learning process and infuse graduates not only with market-oriented skills, but also with a new standard of morals, awareness, and ethical behavior.

The two trends outlined above should combine to create a more receptive environment for modernization within the sphere of African agricultural education and training.

diagrama conceptualization of a national agri inno system.001

Figure 2. representation of an agricultural innovation system

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