Sound Education Will Boost Agriculture in Africa
In a participatory Poverty Assessment conducted in Uganda, poor farmers identified low education levels, ignorance, lack of information and skills (especially in primary production and financial management) among the major factors contributing to poverty. While this list is not exhaustive, it exposes the prevalent inadequate human capital whose existence can be attributed to poor education systems. Some of the challenges are socio-economic while others are technological, political, cultural and even religious, and often uniquely specific to different countries in terms of area and context.
Africa faces major educational challenges. Some socio-cultural factors, for example, shape people’s perception and appreciation of different elements of agriculture. Some communities will resist any education programme or system that promotes any technology which may be viewed to infringe on their religious or cultural values however useful the technology may be. It is inconceivable to expect a pastoral community to support any educational programme promoting use of cattle, which they so much cherish for animal traction especially when being newly introduced. Contrary to this assertion it will be an uphill task to convince pastoralists to take up training in fisheries or fishing.
The relegated position of agriculture in some communities, partly explained by Africa’s static and backward farming also plays its toll. Parents and teachers encourage their children to study hard to escape digging and instead become lawyers, doctors, engineers amongst others, forgetting that all these professionals, will not do any work unless they have eaten food produced by the farmer. While agriculture is an experiential subject, the practical aspect is often given less prominence thus ignoring the most applicable element. Some schools’ gardens and demonstration plots are located in grossly unsuitable areas such as steep dry and infertile slopes. Any crop planted on such plots dries miserably, thus demonstrating to the students the risk and dangers instead of the advantages of farming. This is compounded by lack of practical training materials even in agricultural universities.
Still in the schools, while it is sometimes assumed that anybody teaching biological sciences can teach agriculture, the subject is multidisciplinary and highly specialised. There is a dearth of competent teachers of Agriculture. This is exacerbated by inappropriate education policy and curriculum; and irrelevant teaching and reading materials. Available text books and reading materials are commonly based on agriculture of continents from which they are donated, with completely different climates, farming systems and, therefore little relevance for African agriculture. How for instance is the highly mechanised agriculture in Manitoba directly relevant for a student in rural Iringa in Tanzania or Machakos in Kenya for that matter?
Effects of faulty education
Africa’s faulty education system therefore leads to lack of skills and knowledge which lead to poor development of agricultural research, technology; and advisory services. While the majority of the small scale farmers in the developing countries are illiterate, labels on containers of agricultural chemicals and instruction manuals for machinery, equipment and other technologies are normally in foreign languages. Farmers thus find difficulty in reading, understanding and applying them, in addition to exposing farmers’ health and the environment to danger.
Agriculture, being mostly traditional and not market-oriented, remains undertaken as just a way of life instead of a profitable profession. Digging which predominates Africa’s rural farming is despised and highly considered backward, primitive, and a sure way for one to remain perpetually poor if not abandoned at the earliest opportunity. Many children brought up in rural areas abandon digging as soon as they join secondary schools, leaving the task to their parents! Teachers on the other hand mete digging as a punishment to errant students, an act that compels the students to resent and abandon a task associated with the punishment. Agriculture is equated with staying and working in rural areas and yet rural areas are devoid of modern facilities such as good housing, electricity, entertainment, easy communication and good schools for children’s education. It will thus be dissented and avoided by many.
Any interventions geared at improving Africa’s agricultural situation must consider that agriculture is largely a practical science which must be approached along sound, appropriate and balanced principles. People’s attitudes must be reoriented to appreciate and promote agriculture as a profitable and noble profession. In addition, there must be incentives to attract and retain people in farming. As a matter of Policy, African Governments must put agricultural education high on development agenda. Education curricula should be revised, making agriculture a compulsory subject at primary, secondary and as appropriate, college levels. In agricultural universities and tertiary institutions, practical training should be promoted and emphasised. This also applies for agriculture teacher training colleges and other institutions.
Governments should help schools to establish suitable school gardens and demonstration plots. Schools should in turn help students to form agricultural clubs and societies. Through these arrangements, the students can be encouraged to grow some vegetables and rear small livestock, whose products the schools could buy for school feeding. In that way, the students earn some pocket money while at the same time gaining practical knowledge and appreciation of the experience and as a policy matter, digging (where it occurs).as a punishment should be outlawed. Governments should support practical agriculture training by allocating adequate financial resources for agricultural education besides setting appropriate agriculture education methodology, quality and standards for all institutions, enshrined in the curriculum.
Deliberate government policy to mobilise and sensitise the youth on the importance of agriculture in national economic development and food security, and helping them focus on agriculture as a business and not as just a way of life would reorient their thinking and appreciation of the subject. Agricultural education should be extended to informal level, by involving local institutions such as churches and mosques which have diverse followers.
Most importantly, African governments must restart supporting agriculture. Definitely, nobody will be attracted to a highly risky and unprofitable venture. We were duped into abandoning our agriculture when developed countries continue to pump over US$ 300 Billion per year (1 billion per day) as subsidies to their farmers.
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