Agriculture has long been an integral component of developing countries’ economies and is vital for poverty alleviation and economic development. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) asserts that “the agricultural sector is at the heart of the economies of the least-developed countries” (2002). The largest sector of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is agriculture with 52% of total employment working in agriculture, higher than the 39% working in agriculture in low-and middle-income countries (LMIC) worldwide (World Bank, 2020). This percentage represents a staggering 230 million people working in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa alone (World Bank, 2020). With such large numbers of people in LMICs working in agriculture, an “improvement in agricultural performance has potential to increase rural incomes and purchasing power for large numbers of people” (Vandenbosch, 2006, p.13).

However, lack of training and education in the subject has led to the underutilization of agricultural practices that increase productivity in the sector. A 2014 World Bank report on human capital development for agriculture stated “the low level of human capital in Africa’s agricultural sector remains a significant constraint to growth, poverty reduction, and food security on the continent”. An increase in agricultural education training (AET) and further technical and vocational education training (TVET), can lead to an increase in productivity, in turn reducing poverty in rural areas of LMICs. Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically, has the highest rates of poverty and percentage of the population working in agriculture. In order to increase income in rural areas of LMICs, investment in agricultural education is imperative in order to grow the agricultural sector to be more effective and efficient. Not only does agricultural education serve to reduce poverty, but it also works to create increased food security, and promote sustainability in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Figure 1. Agriculture as a share of total GDP in 2014 Source: World Bank 2016

Previous studies of agricultural education and training have proven AET to be highly successful in increasing participants’ income. Farmer field schools (FFS) are one example of AET in practice. FFS follows “an adult education approach” based on a “participatory method of learning, technology development, and dissemination based on adult learning principles such as experiential learning” (Davis et al., 2010, p. 2)[1]. Farmer field schools aim to provide AET in an informal setting to reach groups most marginalized in poverty-stricken areas; those with little or no formal education, and women. The FFS study was conducted in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Results showed that after FFS participation, there was an increase in crop productivity, livestock production and that women benefited more than men (2010, p. 16). The study showed that in all three countries involved in the research, “agricultural income of female-headed FFS households increased by 187%” (2010, p. 26). More specifically, “agricultural income of female-headed households in Tanzania increased by 155%” and per capita agricultural income of female-headed households increased over 300% in Kenya for those who participated in FFS (2010, p. 26).

Figure 2. Impact of FFS Participation on per capita agricultural income across countries Source: Davis et al. “Impact of farmer Field Schools on Agricultural Productivity in East Africa” 2010
Figure 3. Impact of FFS participation across gender of household head (% change in agricultural income per capita) Source: Davis et al. “Impact of farmer Field Schools on Agricultural Productivity in East Africa” 2010

While it’s clear that agricultural education and training contribute to poverty reduction by increasing incomes for those working in the sector, in order for AET to be even more successful, reform of current practices is required. Current AET systems struggle with inadequate resources in terms of physical infrastructure, communications facilities, and limited human resources for teaching and research (Spielman et al, 2008, p.2). Existing worldwide AET programs in SSA have an outdated approach that requires restructuring to meet current labour market needs.

In order to achieve long-lasting effective results, six broad suggestions to reform AET that can be utilized by Global Affairs Canada and The International Development Research Centre are presented below.

  1. Create an Africa-specific approach. Most AET approaches are based on the Western Land Grant-style system, a unique American institution, which does not function effectively and efficiently in SSA (Eicher, 2006, p.33). Rather than replicate an older approach, a new Africa-centred program is needed to better reflect the changing national objectives, in order to increase the long-term impacts of AET (Cletzer et al, 2016, p.77; Davis, Ekboir, Spielman, 2008). This would strategically realign the visions of AET with the current national development aspirations.
  2. A gender-based approach should also be incorporated as women are fundamentally under-represented in agriculture, despite having some of the highest percentages in the agricultural labour force (Vandenbosch, 2006, p.103). World Bank data shows that 52% of employment in agriculture in SSA is female (2020). Additionally, studies of FFS showed that women benefit ed the most from AET, with agricultural income per capita increasing to levels of over 300% (Davis et al., 2010, p. 16). Including a gender-based approach aligns with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women.
  3. As agricultural education is more specialized and niche when compared to other forms of education, certified teacher training programs are vital in producing qualified educators to ensure the best possible outcomes of the program. Learning methods need to be restructured to reflect the prior education and skills of participants. Studies on current AET in sub-Saharan Africa have shown the main method of teaching was lecturing, which is highly ineffective in imparting knowledge, learning practical field skills, and changing attitudes (Vandenbosch, 2006, p.77). Teacher training programs are crucial to the improved success of AET. Combining “classroom instruction and learning-by-doing activities conducted in collaboration with local farmers and other agricultural sector actors” has been attributed to the success of AET programs in Latin America (Spielman et al, 2008, p.3).
  4. Technology has diffused worldwide and become a vital way to stay connected. By including a technological component in AET, a remote agricultural extension agent service can be created. Extension agents are agricultural experts dealing with the dissemination of agricultural information to local farmers. This can improve crop productivity and livestock management (Reddy and Ankaiah, 2005, p1905). Small technological improvements in agriculture can also increase productivity and income.

Canada’s Involvement
Canada and the Food and Agricultural Organization

 Canada has continuously supported the FAO since its introduction in 1945. Its continued support aims to end hunger and build resilience in agriculture. Canada and the FAO have “contributed to rural transformation through investments in agricultural productivity and livelihood opportunities” (FAO, 2018). Canada and the FAO have partnered together to “promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”, “support innovative partnerships to build resilience”, “bridge humanitarian and development objectives”, and “promote fair trade and inclusive value chains” (FAO, 2018)

In 2017, Canada committed CA$50 million for a 5-year joint program with the FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Program  (WFP) called the Resilience Initiative, aimed at increasing food security and resilience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger, and Somalia. To complement and align the project’s activities, this project utilizes Farmer and Pastoral Field Schools and training in climate-resilient agricultural practices to boost production, increase income, and diversify livelihoods (FAO, 2018). FFS is a “learning process that brings together concepts and methods from agroecology, experiential education and community development” and has had great success in increasing income and productivity in sub-Saharan Africa (FAO, 2018; Davis et al, 2010). The Resilience Initiative also contains a gendered approach in alignment with the FAO – Canada partnership, and FIAP. This program funding will expire in 2021 and current funding levels are inadequate; CA$50 million across 5 years for 3 countries ($3.33 million per country per year).

As the FAO-Canada partnership has strong connections in reducing the SDGs and aligns with FIAP, it is highly advantageous for Canada to increase investments in projects such as the Resilience Initiative.

Figure 4: Contributions to FAO’s Areas of Work/Strategic Objectives 2018-2019 aligned to SDGs Source: FAO, 2020

Increased funding for agricultural education and training follows Canada’s international development mandates and GAC’s Departmental Plan for 2020-21. The proposed recommendations follow the commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by attaining SDG 1 and 2 and also aligning with FIAP.

Rebecca Niezen is an MA candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs specializing in international development policy. Rebecca’s research interests focus on education in developing regions and the use of education in various development sectors to reduce poverty.
Banner image by Christian Machira, courtesy of Unsplash.


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[1] Kristin Davis is a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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