Agricultural Education in Yemen,  Present and Future [Archives:2000/01/Business & Economy]

January 3 2000

The objective of this article is to study and evaluate the reality of agricultural education and propose a plan of action for future development of the agricultural education and its output.
By awareness we mean that education in the agricultural sciences is to focus on information campaigning and exchange and on communication and dissemination techniques in order to educate the rural sector at large and train agricultural trainers. Secondly, it should focus on the environmental aspects of farming, covering issues such as water resource management, aforestation and deforestation, renewable energy, desertification control, natural habitats, fish stock depletion, natural habitats, type of seedlings, crop rotation, use of grazing lands and like issues. These are not to be dealt with in an isolated manner but integrally as a manifestation of human behavior, conduct, reality and know how, as an interaction between human beings and their environment.
The principal reason to highlight this is based on one simple question: that of the future role of agriculture in the national economy. With a limited and diminishing arable land mass, a growing population and foreign exchange, the urgency of protecting and developing the sector in order to better feed the population is clear.
Until now a major part of farming has been based on traditional agricultural principles. From an environmental point of view this may not always be that negative, but does not facilitate the required growth in either its production or productivity levels. That is a matter of concern in view of the growing urban encroachment and subsequent loss of agricultural fields, abandonment of the land, desertification and soil erosion. Hence, the question to be answered is how to protect existing production areas and diversity levels, and how to raise productivity without endangering the delicate balances between environment and development.
As people tend to prefer urban amenities over rural ones and the inaccessibility to basic services in the rural areas there is a natural push and pull from the urban area at the expense of the rural labor force. And what may not be a very dramatic shift now may very well become so in the foreseeable future. It means that mechanization, technology and its applications require a far better spread and use, if under those circumstances higher production levels are to be reached. Hence, focus on exchange of ideas and exposure to new ideas that once are introduced could make a difference.
How much of the percentage of the population will remain in the agricultural sector will in this respect be more an academic question than the fact that a growing urban labor force seeks employment in industry and service sectors. These can only be employed whenever a better exchange can be brought about between the rural and urban sectors, enabling the establishment of an agro-industrial complex. Yemen still has a well developed urban infrastructure, facilitating the possibilities mentioned. However, without sizing up such opportunities, a growing disenchanted labor force will face a future without possibilities. Hence, the relationships between agriculture and industry have to be explored by all means and developed in earnest.
Subsequently, agriculture education has to reach out to the masses and educate bigger groups of the rural society than have thus far been taken into consideration, has to raise production and productivity levels, protect existing agricultural lands and even extend their size, determine what new technologies to introduce and how to apply these new technologies in a constrained living environment, and create agro-industrial complexes within urban-rural integrated areas. Clearly, education cannot do this on its own, and requires a concerted effort of many ministries (education, agriculture, labor, etc.) and faculties.
Agricultural Education
Education is to be based on the realities of the physical environment in which people live and are to cope with the realities they face in their daily lives now and in the future.
For that, a pyramidal approach becomes a necessity in agricultural education. Whereby long distance and direct education for the masses is an objective and basic concern, as well as a greater involvement of the rural population in a formal type of agricultural education at various levels. This can be materialized through popular shows by TV, Radio, road shows, agricultural exhibitions and the like, and above all the spread of agricultural school infrastructure at secondary school level.
This implies the development of a school curriculum for primary and secondary schools already reflecting agricultural issues. At primary schools children could be taught how and what to plant, weed, and water in their school gardens. This would provide practical hands on experience about plants, weeds, corps, utensils and like issues.
At preparatory and secondary school levels the emergence of agricultural training centers is imperative, comparable to vocational training centers and concentrating on basic and intermediary agricultural education. Course curricula could distinguish basic and secondary level agricultural education. Basic courses are to concentrate on planting (grains, horticulture, fishery), deforestation and aforestation, nutrition, food processing, handling and storage, soils, irrigation and environmental conservation, bio-chemistry and pesticide handling, storage and management, animal husbandry, pricing and marketing of products, mechanization and maintenance, as well as general topics from the secondary curriculum such as languages, sciences, geography etc. In general these courses are to focus on how to make a living in the rural sector, improve one’s lot at the basic levels for students in the age group of 11 to 14 years.
After preparatory school the secondary level students from the ages of 14 to 17 years could concentrate on raising the levels of sophistication by broadening the curriculum from the basic level and complementing these with elements on prevention of erosion, ploughing, irrigation and planting techniques, improved seeds, agricultural machinery and the like issues, enabling better foundations for raising of agricultural output and productivity in the agricultural sector. This infrastructure of agricultural training centers is to be widespread and accessible to all who completed primary school. This part of the education system could be run by the Ministry of Education.
Graduates from these agricultural training centers should qualify for a third level technical agricultural education i.e. the technical course programs followed either on a full time or part time basis. Persons coming from these technical schools who complement their basic education with credits from the normal secondary school curriculum (sciences) should have entry into the bachelor’s programs of one of the four agricultural university centers upon graduation from these technical schools. They could utilize the credits built up under the technical course program to compensate for some introductory and second year courses. Third level technical agricultural education could be developed and run by the Faculties of Agriculture in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Hence, emphasis in the education is to be directed less to university education, and rather to the improvement of the agricultural teaching infrastructure and know how accessible to larger groups who actually work and live off the land. Without them there simply is no agricultural sector and the agricultural university will never be able to flourish. In this respect, the numbers coming to the university is not the problem, rather it is the levels and type of academic training they receive and the quality of the professionals that are delivered.
Third level technical agricultural training can be based on long distance learning using the TV for part timers that refer to four year courses in a specific number of agricultural matters which are considered a priority. These students do indeed need support and individual guidance. This is to be provided by the lecturers and assistant professors of the existing university centers. For those who can afford to become full time students a university education at the technical level spread out over two years is to be made possible, covering the same topics with possibilities for students to get additional credit in fields beyond the compulsory curriculum. All should be able to obtain a government approval certificate. All technical courses are to be directed towards acquiring high levels of practical know how and teaching the ability to deal with either education, production, processing, marketing and/or conservation issues. The course program consists of 80% compulsory topics and 20% of topics of their choice.
University education at bachelors levels should comprise a curriculum that covers a maximum of four years and is dealing with a wider variety of academic topics. Entry into this program is based on selection of students coming from the regular secondary schools with a science annotation and/or technical agricultural students, and who are to be employed in the agricultural sector itself, or in the manufacturing industry, private sector operations, banking, cooperations, services, and public sector upon graduation.
The course curriculum could consist of general introductory courses for all of one year. Upon passing all exams a general distinction can be made in the second year between agricultural sciences and agro-manufacturing. The distinction between these two main faculties is that 60% of the courses in the primer are dedicated to agricultural issues and 40% to processing and the like issues. While for the latter faculty 40% of the curriculum will be dedicated to agricultural sciences and 60% to processing and related issues. The shift in focus is to enable choices at earlier levels of the course program. This could raise the applicability and marketability of the young professional looking for work in a market that requires relevant and specialized skills. An argument has to be made as regards introduction of a specialization into the faculty to train agricultural teachers and trainers.
In the third and fourth academic year a limited number of specialization’s could be chosen from to form the basis on which graduation studies and works round off the academic program. The type of academic specializations may refer to agricultural education and awareness, agricultural production and technology, food and industrial processing, marketing, and conservation techniques and polices. A third of curriculum should be spent in the field and not behind the desk, while allowing student exchange with other universities in the region. All completed courses honor the students with a BSc certificate. A limited number of students could qualify for a master program either inside or outside the country.
How these course programs are to be set-up and the curse curriculum developed, is an issue that ideally reflects the economic base of the regions where a university is established. In this respect, farmer’s cooperatives or unions, industry, banking and public organizations are to be represented on the board of directors of the agricultural faculty. In this sense an agricultural university may specialize itself into specific areas like plant improvement or food processing and be relevant to industry in that particular region at large.
It is true that a limitation in resources necessitates that we make optimal use of existing ones. Therefore, it is prerequisite to liaison the agricultural faculty with he economic, science (water management and irrigation, biology, genetics) engineering and other faculties to achieve economies of scale and a cross fertilization between disciplines. In the economic faculty the curriculum should contain elements such as macro and micro economy, project appraisal and evaluation, business administration, mathematics and statistics, but also matters such as urban and rural development and the like issues related to the realities of the development processes of the country. Agricultural students participate in their course program on such topics as micro economics, project appraisal and related issues. The same counts for irrigation issues, mechanization, and agricultural machinery, with regard to the science and engineering faculties.
An agricultural study program could consist of the following departments:
– Animal Production: husbandry, poultry, cattle, animal breeding and selection, animal waste
– Horticulture: qat, vegetables, potatoes, unions, fruits, fruit trees, flowers and plants
– Agronomy: wheat and grains, fertilizers, seed improvement
– Plant protection: weeds, insects, pest management, insecticide, handling, storage and destruction
– Soil & Water: soils and land use, metrology, water management and irrigation, erosion, desertification control, agricultural and range land management and terrace building
– Forestry: vegetation, shrubs and trees, forest products, agro-forestry, deforestation and aforestation, and habitats
– Bio-chemistry: plant improvement, genetics and biology, nutrition, food handling, processing, quality assessment and monitoring, handling storage and conservation techniques.
– Agro-economics: agro-banking and cooperatives, micro economics, project appraisal and valuations, cost benefit analysis, statistics, infrastructure, market centers, rural development
– Fishery: marine science, fish breeding, stock assessment, fishing techniques and preservation, ships and equipment, and coastal zone management
– Mechanization: agricultural machinery, renewable resources and technology applications in farming, engineering & maintenance
– Awareness: education, information and communication techniques, associations and community participation, baseline studies
– Manufacturing: bio-farming, agro-industry, greenhouse cultures, food process technology, process management
Environmental issues are not to be made a separate subject, but rather taught as integral element of each of the academic fields mentioned.
The (assistant) professors, lecturers, research students participate not only in the teaching of the full time students, but support and guide the part time long distance (technical and university) students. They carry out research on agricultural issues of concern in the region, conduct field studies and participate in visits to agricultural unions, industry and the like. Students should be stimulated by participating in research under the auspices of the principle researcher, and register the hours and results of exams on their university credit scheme.
A university must interact with the relevant community in that area and contribute to the solution of it problems, and the welfare and well-being of its stakeholders. In this respect, funding should not be received exclusively from the state. University staff should be stimulated to participate in private contracts or business and let both the university, the students and themselves benefit from these earnings, experiences and results. That makes the exchange with students the more interesting and increases motivation and skill levels.
Agricultural policies now and in the future are to be geared to raise local standards, enhance rural amenities, skill levels and opportunities to make a decent living, providing a growing population with the means to feed itself. Viewed from this perspective, agricultural policies are to become embedded into a concise yet practical framework of rural urban integrated development programs, reflecting national development priorities and objectives, and providing sustainable and structural solutions to the most pressing societal problems.
These programs require time and cover periods of at least 10 years of technical assistance, infrastructure investments, economic and social development for a whole region. These can only succeed with the effective mobilization of both existing resources and direct involvement of the people living in the areas. The bottom up approach requires decision making at the local levels and by the local levels. Perceived from their perspectives, technical people overwhelm them and/or do not understand them. Their basic skills are limited. to what they learned was from their fathers and a little in school. Basically, they are no party, except for those who by their intellect obtained powers to judge and decide. It underlines the necessity to broaden basic (agricultural) education infrastructure and reach out to larger rural groups, while learning from them as well. Information campaigns, technology exchange centers, and mobile exhibitions may also overcome some misunderstandings.
Hence, the suggestion to set up networks of interested parties from the villagers, farmers, providers of basic infrastructure (roads, water, electricity, health, schools), manufacturing industry (food processing industry), banking, research institutes, policy makers, rural-urban planners, conservationists, to deliberate and decide on crucial development issues.