Agricultural extension staff need innovative training programmes
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Zinnah, Moses. 1997. Agricultural extension staff need innovative training programmes. Spore 72. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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a pilot BSc Agricultural Extension programme designed for mid-career agricultural extension staff was launched in November 1993 at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana
Trends in agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that increasing emphasis will have to be placed on improving the capacity of small to medium-scale farmers. Agricultural extension staff, both within the public and private sectors, have a critical role to play in enhancing the capacity of farmers to improve their productivity. Dr Moses Zinnah works with the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development as Team Leader and Deputy Director of the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE). The programme he is working with is based at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. However, major problems exist: most agricultural extension staff do not have the requisite training to carry out their tasks effectively; the curricula of most agricultural faculties or colleges in Africa marginalize the social science component, particularly agricultural extension courses; even though most of their graduates usually work in public and private agricultural extension services on completion of their studies; and most of the programmes in agricultural faculties are neither demand-driven nor based on employment market demands such as those of the Ministry of Agriculture or the private sector who could be willing either to employ or to sponsor students to pursue programmes which are of immediate tangible benefit to them. Innovative extension training programmes are needed which will enable extension staff to acquire critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills, in addition to knowledge and skills in agricultural technology. Only then can they deal with the multifaceted problems they encounter in their work with farmers and community groups. To respond to this need, a pilot BSc Agricultural Extension programme designed for mid-career agricultural extension staff was launched in November 1993 at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. The programme is focused on training mid-career agricultural extension staff who hold diplomas and certificates and are already working with farmers. The pilot programme was developed through a partnership between the Ministry of Food and Agriculture Ghana, the Sasakawa Africa Foundation, Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, and the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. The new training programme is clearly different from the dominant approach to training agricultural extension staff, where the emphasis is on 'transfer technology'. Rather than formulating prepackaged prescriptions, the new curriculum embraces strong collaboration with the stakeholders, including farmers and local agricultural agencies (both public and private). The stakeholders are given greater decision-making power in terms of the design and implementation of the curriculum. Farmers and other clientele of the programme are not viewed as mere 'end-users' or 'end-recipients', but as active collaborators in the learning process. There is a strong extension or social science bias in the programme. This is underlined by the fact that in the four-year Post-Certificate programme, 65% of the courses are devoted to extension or extension-related courses, while in the two-year Post-Diploma programme, 83% of the courses are devoted to extension or extension-related courses. Theory and practice are integrated through the eight-month off-campus Supervised Enterprise/Experience Projects (SEPs). The SEPs constitute the nerve centre of the innovative programme. After a period of in-residence instructions on the University campus, students return to their place of employment to undertake action-oriented research/extension projects - the SEPs. The SEPs are designed to immerse students in valuable farmer-focused, experience-based learning activities that mirror the total milieu surrounding subsistence and semi-commercial farming systems. They are meant to also reduce the discrepancy between the training and the various tasks that the extension staff are to perform in their real work environment after their training. Development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, systems thinking capabilities, and development of lifelong learning attitudes are emphasized. This innovative programme is attempting to assist mid-career extension staff to understand and articulate their intentions; to assist them to examine their actual behaviour in their real work environment; to identify and describe the gaps that exist between their intentions and their actions; and to undertake the independent or group self-designed experiential learning projects (SEPs) in their work environment that narrow the gaps between their intentions and their actual behaviour. The detection of errors and the ability to explore ways and means of correcting them is the essence of the innovation programme. The experience gained during the past three years indicates that genuine dialogue and collaboration between agricultural institutions of higher education, farmers, public and private agricultural organizations can lead to jointly-agreed responsive training programmes. It is also becoming clear that training programmes developed by agricultural institutions of higher education as a result of dialogue and collaboration with stakeholders, ensure strong commitment on the part of administrators and staff to pursue those programmes on a more sustained basis. We believe that investment in human resources through appropriate training offers the best returns. There is considerable scope in Ghana, and sub-Saharan African countries in general, for improving the training of agricultural extension staff, especially mid-career staff. We are trying to spread the idea across sub-Saharan Africa. The aim is to share experiences among institutions committed to the same vision - the training of mid-career agricultural extension staff. Already the momentum is building, as major universities in Africa, including Alemaya University of Agriculture in Ethiopia, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and Makerere University in Uganda, have embraced this new approach. The innovative training programme in Ghana is evolving and will continue to do so over the coming years. We recognize that in a changing world, learning is not a destination, but is a journey for us all. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA
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