Is agricultural education and training essential to the well-being of rural folks? Yes, as long as human resources are enhanced. Success in any enterprise depends upon the skills of people. While many improved agricultural practices are the products of modern science and technology, training and education have been an integral part of improved farming since the domestication of plants and animals. Nevertheless, a gap often remains between the generation of production technologies at research centers and their adoption by farmers on whose shoulders food production rides.
In my country of Ghana and most developing nations, rural development is the only sound basis for national development. But agricultural training programs in many nations have not met the expectations of planners, educators, and farmers thus far. To improve the effectiveness of agricultural training in Ghana and elsewhere, four allied strategies are appropriate. First, adaptation rather than adoption of training methods developed in industrialized nations should be encouraged. Second, the involvement of farmers and rural youth in curriculum development must be emphasized. Third, the true economic and social interests of farmers and rural youth in agricultural education and training cannot be overlooked by policy makers, administrators, and teachers of agriculture.
Misunderstanding and differences of attitude among these interest groups about agriculture can jeopardize the goals of training programs. Fourth, participation in the development of low-input agricultural education and training courses by the the private sector (NGOs) must be encouraged.
My experiences in the United States, Israel, and Ghana have exposed me to varying degrees of achievement in agricultural development due to differences in the approach to agricultural education and training. Yet certain forms of non-formal and on-the-job training and education have historically been effective regardless of the setting. These include periodic workshops, seminars, demonstration field days, trade shows, and intern programs for farmers, extensionists, and students. Of particular interest to me are the agricultural training and education activities of the 4-H Youth Development programs within the U.S. Cooperative Extension system. In addition, the achievements of Israel in agricultural development are remarkable to me because people from very different backgrounds - shopkeepers, administrators, and scholars who immigrated to Israel, for example - became skilled, successful farmers through various training opportunities.
Back home in Ghana, we have some agri-cultural colleges and farm institutes. Agricultural science is taught in every high school. But the relationship between these institutions and local farmers is rather thin. Workshops and seminars rarely are organized to expose rural communities to new technologies being developed by these institutions. Most students tend to lose contact with their institutions after the training period. This does little for the sustainability of agricultural education and development. I am emphasizing Ghana's situation not because it is the best or the worst, but rather it is the situation I am most familiar with.
Just the same, global agricultural development is taking a new approach in many nations, one which demands a restructuring of resources and philosophy for agricultural education and training. Attention is increasingly focused on participatory approaches to training and education which identify, involve, integrate, and improve the indigenous knowledge base of rural agricultural economies. More focus upon the training of the rural youth as a means to sustain the agricultural sector in nations like Ghana would also be appropriate.
Above all, we should set specific goals by which to measure the effectiveness of education and training programs for sustainable agricultural development.
The goals might include 1) reversal of rural to urban migration trends; 2) increased reliance on local versus externally purchased production inputs; 3) an improvement in the living standards of rural people; 4) increased democratization of power structures, which is particularly important for rural youth leadership development; 5) increased emphasis on educational curricula oriented to practical applications rather than the ability to pass exams; 6) greater general interest to use public and private funds to support the development of community outreach programs based at agricultural institutions.
These and other similar goals deserve to be major considerations of planning, implementing, and evaluating agricultural education and training programs. With the limited resources available today, we cannot afford to maintain programs that are not appropriate to the needs of the rural population.