Academic Program Strengthens Ties with African Agriculture

March 4, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- East African universities are looking to Ohio State University to strengthen their colleges of agriculture to help improve agricultural productivity, food security and the economy throughout the region.

Through a three-year $799,647 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant, Ohio State's International Programs in Agriculture in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, just completed a pilot program that graduated a host of African students in the areas of agricultural economics, agribusiness, horticulture, animal sciences and agricultural engineering. These students have returned to their home countries to apply their training to research, teaching, and community outreach. The program also provided in-country training opportunities for faculty to improve their research, to improve their teaching of econometrics and agribusiness, and to strengthen linkages with the private sector through agribusiness internships.

Policy makers and program managers in Washington, D.C. are interested in the impact of this project as increased attention is being given to East Africa within the context of U.S. geopolitical decision making, said Mark Erbaugh, associate director of Ohio State's International Programs in Agriculture.

"University programs, like this one, that strengthen national capacity to generate scientific and technological responses to development constraints are viewed as important options," said Erbaugh. "The project has strengthened Ohio State University's presence in this region and its ability to work with national and international entities to address these development constraints."

Erbaugh added the project, known as the Higher Education Partnerships for African Development (HEPAD), continues Ohio State's four decades of institution-building and degree-training with East Africa, helping to sustain vital international agriculture and rural development partnerships.

"Prior to the 1990s, the United States, largely through USAID and U.S. universities, played an important role in building the agricultural science and technology capacity of many universities in sub-Saharan Africa. During the 1990s, this support subsided, but since 2002, such support has been renewed," said Erbaugh. "These types of projects are good for Ohio State University because they bring excellent students from around the world to our campus, exposing both our domestic students and faculty to new ideas and concepts, as well as contributing to the overall goal of globalizing our research and education missions."

The Ohio State-led project included collaboration with Michigan State University and partnerships with Makerere University in Uganda, Egerton University in Kenya and the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. Students participated in "sandwich" coursework and research, which involved one year of coursework at either Ohio State or MSU and at least another year of research conducted in their home country.

Students who participated in the program acknowledged its positive impact on their education, as well as teaching and research applications at their home universities.

Herman Lyimo, a senior lecturer with Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, praised Ohio State's teaching methods and applied new classroom approaches to stimulate higher levels of thinking.

"I changed my teaching and examining styles upon my return from the U.S.," said Lyimo. "This was such a radical change for me and I am the only one in the department using such new methods, but students are changing their thinking and passing the examinations."

Program participants also praised the mentorship they received while studying in the United States.

"Interacting with my mentor in the U.S. at a level where he respected my opinions, significantly changed my thinking about mentor-student relationships," said Sadhat Walusimbi, a teaching assistant with Makerere University in Uganda. "Sitting at the same table to discuss in an amicable way and giving constructive criticism and challenges rather than finding faults in how I intended to accomplish something, and being approachable, is a powerful tenet I will always cherish. I have implemented my mentorship experience by organizing and teaching research methods to fourth year students."

The HEPAD project not only had an impact within the university environment, but also impacted local communities through the conduct of applied agricultural research and community outreach programs.

"I have used my experience to provide consultancy services to a children's charity conducting a feasibility study of an animal production enterprise," said Clement Majanja, Master of Agribusiness Management at Makerere University. "And having been involved in the day-to-day running of a business during my internship, I feel confident to start my own business. I would not have received these benefits had I not participated in HEPAD."

Erbaugh said that another benefit to Ohio State University was having eight faculty members travel to Africa to advise graduate students, confer with host-country mentors and provide departmental seminars.

"Faculty returned from mentoring activities with greater understanding and interest in African agricultural development issues, which benefits our campus," said Erbaugh. "In general, the combination of sandwich degree programs, faculty visits to the region, and faculty development activities engaged our faculty in new research and faculty development activities, and have improved/broadened our research programs. This program helps maintain the historical linkages between these institutions and Ohio State."

Over HEPAD's three-year run, a dozen African students and staff members from their respective universities completed course work programs at Ohio State and MSU, and 510 individuals participated in seminars, workshops, internships and non-degree training programs. Additionally, deans from each of the East African Colleges of Agriculture visited both universities.

"Partnerships must be mutually beneficial because building trust and communication takes time. The longer these linkages are maintained, the more benefits they yield for all partners," said Erbaugh. "By sustaining these linkages, the HEPAD project has proven to be a successful partnership model."

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Mark Erbaugh