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Student Leadership and Transformative Changes to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

Partici[pants at the CGHERA and GFAR world dialogue in Capetown South AfricaGo to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Plan with them. Build with what they have. Teach by showing. Learn by doing. When the best leader’ work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say “we have done it ourselves.”

Lao Tzu, founder of Tao philosophy, 700 B.C.

Agricultural topics have gained currency over the past few decades due to their relevance for establishing food and nutrition security, wealth creation and transforming lives.

At the core of this shift is a demand for qualified young professionals who would take charge of the sector and drive the change. As statistical bureaus continue to express their concerns over the ageing farmer population coupled with the worrying trend among young agriculture graduates who often lack relevant skills and practical knowledge, the future of agriculture continues to be unclear.

Looking at the education system of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in many other developing countries, undergraduate programs are often too reliant on textbook materials, with very little or no practical exercises, business ethics classes or lectures on leadership and communication. Under such conditions, unprepared graduates often seek to work outside of agriculture due to poor qualifications or inability to start their own business.

Agriculture is life. It is a science as much as it is an art. Succeeding at it requires insights into how the business world functions along with applicable skills and dose of pragmatism. As such, agriculture and life science universities should therefore keep their structures, curricula and teaching methods aligned with the latest trends as well as competences required by employers and future entrepreneurs.

These and a host of other familiar topics lingered in the minds of this year’s conference participants as they met on October 17, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa for the 4th GCHERA World Dialogue 2016 under the theme “Student Leadership and Transformative Learning to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century”. The one day event organised by Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) and the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) was held in conjunction with the 5th RUFORUM Biennial Conference.

The aim of the dialogue was to itemise and collate actions needed to guide the reform of undergraduate education systems, change the way young people learn about agriculture, and prepare skilled and knowledgeable leaders for the 21st century agricultural challenges. The focus point of the discussion were actionable solutions and identifying individuals and organisations suitable to drive the transformation as well as support agricultural and life science universities in their effort to effectuate the change and deliver more relevant higher education to young agriculturists.

With the ever active drive to ensure more and more young people get into and have successful careers in agriculture, the Young Professional for Agricultural Development (YPARD) as a GFAR Partner youth network was represented by Olawale Ojo and myself Stacy Hammond. The two of us were tasked with sharing our knowledge and views regarding the reform of the undergraduate education system as young professionals active in agriculture. Our participation brought the youth perspective into the dialogue discussions.

Following a brief introduction by Robin Bourgeois the representative of  GFAR and a brief presentation by John Kennelly the president of GCHERA, the more than 25 participants at the event introduced themselves laying the foundation for networking. They did this by stating the organisation they were representing and  voicing their opinions and actions they are willing to support in order to achieve the expected reforms in undergraduate education system. This formed the basis for further discussions where participants worked in small seven to eight member discussion groups to identify additional actions needed and institutions needed to drive the change.

Participants of the GCHERA and GFAR 4th world dialogue

Some of the actions suggested during the meeting included:

  1. Advocacy campaigns via the GCHERA member association to education regulators and members of academia to stress the need for reforming agricultural curriculum,
  2. Identifying and engaging partners that will cut across universities, farms, private agribusiness organisation and policy makers to drive desired changes in the curriculum that will ensure that undergraduate come emerge as leaders with the adequate knowledge, skills and critical thinking as young professionals in agriculture
  3. Partnerships between universities and local farms, research institutes and agriculture companies to provide students with practical experiences
  4. Designing an evaluation system for teaching staff other than research work
  5. More MOOCs tailored for students of agriculture. The MOOC will serve as a platform to exchange skills and knowledge to both the academia and students.

The dialogue resulted in the formation an alliance between GCHERA, GFAR and some of the other participating organisations, such as: Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) and the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). These organisations together with other participating members  developed a  preliminary action plan that will be further developed within the formed alliance. The action plan will aid the process of meeting the objectives and needs of the education system of each represented region and the roadmap for reforming undergraduate education.

In conclusion, as young people, we believe we need to be part of  the reform of our educational system by voicing our opinions, having active participation and getting involved with the organisations in charge of this change. This will in turn ensure that together we have higher quality education and become agricultural graduates with the knowledge, skills and ethical values needed to face the challenges we have as young professionals in this day and age.

Picture credit: Olawale Ojo/YPARD

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