The collaborative masters in agricultural and applied economics in ESA owe its genesis to the Regional Advisory Committee Meeting of the International Food Policy Research Institutes 2020 vision Network for East Africa in September 2000, which was held in Entebbe, Uganda. During this meeting, a decision to assess the demand and supply of agricultural economists in the region was made out of realisation of the declining number of well trained agricultural economists able to undertake agricultural policy research.
This concern was provoked by the fact that agricultural activities form the main source of employment and income for over two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan region and its worsening condition was contributing to increasing levels of poverty and unemployment in the region. Moreover, there was inadequate capacity within the region to undertake policy research, both for the 2020 Vision Network and other national and regional bodies. It was felt that to reverse the increasing hunger, poverty and to transform the entire agricultural sector, and cater for research needs, strengthening agricultural training would be required.
Needs Assessment Studies
Following the Entebbe meeting, the 2020 Vision Network presented a concept note to Rockefeller Foundation to support a study in the region to assess the status of agricultural economics, which led to the commissioning of agricultural economics study. Dr. Marios Obwona of Economic Policy Research Center (Uganda) and Prof. David Norman of Kansas University (USA) were considered as consultants to undertake the study. They studied institutions concerned with agricultural economics teaching and research in eight countries, namely; Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique. The report is available on the IFPRI web site http://www.ifpri.org/2020/nw/publications.htm.
The study evaluated the ability of the academic institutions to produce well trained MSc and PhD agricultural economists and conduct research; the demand for agricultural economists in the region; the training programs weaknesses, strengths and areas of attention; as well as ways of improving agricultural economics training capacity in the region. They reported that there was a widening gap between the demand and supply of agricultural economists in the region. They recommended that there is an urgent need to strengthen and expand training in agricultural economics to meet the unsaturated demand. Institutions in the regions were therefore required to diversify the content and method of delivery of their training programs in order to remain relevant to the current and future challenges facing the region. Moreover, the training they offer should cater not only for the academia but also for the diverse needs in public and private sectors, NGOs, and research institutions.
Program Strategy Development
Following the completion of this study, a workshop for stakeholders drawn from university Agricultural economics departments, economics departments, National Agricultural Research Institutions, Policy Research institutes and Networks was convened in Nairobi in October 2001 to discuss, validate the consultants report and think of the way forward for the sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop was also meant to propose the modalities and strategies on how training to cater for the deficiency could be achieved. During this workshop, there was exploration of the most effective ways through presentation of papers on initiatives being proposed or implemented in the region for strengthening capacity in agricultural economics.
While the participants agreed that most recommendations from the consultants could be implemented in the different and individual capacities, the need for a common and institutionalised strategy to address and strengthen the capacity in agricultural economics in the region was realised and advocated for. However, presented strategies during the workshop targeted training at either masters or doctoral level or through research. There was no consensus about how the evident weaknesses of staffing, teaching materials and facilities would be made in order for the adopted strategy to be sustainable and provide high quality postgraduate programs relevant to rural modernisation and development of agro-food sector.
It was at this point that the idea of a collaborative strategy/program in Eastern and Southern Africa was borne. However, it was agreed that devising such a program would require careful planning, consultations and consensus building amongst the parties concerned. This responsibility was to be given to Agricultural economics departmental heads to make further deliberations on the issue, develop an agenda to strengthen agricultural economics and prioritise activities in accordance with available resources.
A proposal was developed by June 2002 by the Project Steering Committee containing the rationale and aims of the planning exercise for the proposed program. The steering committee comprised:
- Harris Mule – Chairman
- Rajul Pandya-Lorch – IFPRI
- Isaac Minde – ECAPAPA
- John Lynam – Rockefeller Foundation
- William Lyakurwa – AERC
- Akin Adesina – Rockefeller Foundation
- Steve Were Omamo-IFPRI
Among the issues addressed was the need for the representatives of the participating institutions to converge in order to review the developed program proposal as well as develop a common understanding with regard to the planning phase. This culminated in the October meetings in Nairobi (3rd October) and Johannesburg (14th October). The Nairobi meeting brought together heads of Agricultural economics departments from East and Central Africa while that in Johannesburg drew participation from departmental heads from the Southern Africa region.
The meeting gave the participants an opportunity to highlight the existing academic programs in their departments, staff, linkages as well as facilities in order to bring to the limelight the current situation of the participating departments for purposes of planning. Moreover, the meetings gave a preparatory stage for the November conference through deliberations on the potential participants to be invited. During both meetings the importance of keeping all departmental members and other concerned parties informed about the initiative undertakings was stressed. This would facilitate the smooth flow of activities in case of any change. The heads of department form the Agricultural Economics Education Board (AEEB).
On 23rd and 24th November 2002, a conference under the theme Challenges for Agricultural Economists and Economists in Eastern and Southern Africa was held drawing participation of AEEB members, representatives from governments, parastatal, agribusinesses, and NGOs. The conference was meant to provide in-depth information on skills required in the field of agricultural economics, training of agricultural economics as a higher education course, how the trend of agricultural economics has been, what the key issues to address during program design, and the appropriate approaches.
After the conference, the heads of departments had their first AEEB meting on 25th and 26th to start negotiations on how to strengthen agricultural economics training in the region by developing a plan of action. This led to commissioning of Round One studies in December 2002, which commenced on January running up to February 2003. Thereafter, was the presentation of the studies findings to the AEEB meeting in Durban, South Africa. Their successful completion led to commissioning of the second round of studies between April and May 2003 whose findings were presented in Lilongwe, Malawi by early June 2003.
Program Leadership and Partners
The Planning Phase was under the leadership of Mr Jeffery Fine and Prof. Willis Oluoch-Kosura as the Planning Advisor and Planning Co-ordinator, respectively. The Planning Phase secretariat was initially based at IDRC regional office in Nairobi, but has since relocated to African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) offices, in Nairobi. Facilitation of the first phase of the program was made possible through the initial partial support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Other support for the planning exercise came from COMART Foundation of Toronto, African Capacity Building Foundation, SIDA (SAREC), USAID and IDRC.
The AEEB presented their program proposal at an IAAE conference in August 2003 in Durban, after which comments from resourceful people in the field of agricultural economics and economics were given. In September 2003, the proposed program was validated at the National Consultative Workshop organised by the respective AEEB members. The program implementation was rolled on beginning of May 2005.
The program aims to:
- Equip professionals with knowledge and skills essential for transforming the agro food sectors and rural economies of the region in an environmentally sustainable fashion.
- Produce graduates conversant with problems facing the agricultural sector in Africa and with the capability to provide practical solutions to meet the millennium development goals.
- Set up a system for upgrading of the teaching and research capacity of faculties in the participating departments; and
- Enhance a collaborative network amongst the many players in agricultural economics and related disciplines in agriculture to undertake research to inform relevant policy.
Activities and Achievements
After the inception of the Planning Phase, several undertakings were made in preparation for the launching of the program. These were in form of studies commissioned by the AEEB for situation analysis, as well as subsequent meetings to present and evaluate the studies findings. In total, nine studies and three meetings were undertaken, which brought out the vital requirements for the participating departments in order in order for them to effective adopt and delivery the MSc course. The completed studies focussed on:
- Program profile structure and content. The study examined the best practice universities around the world in order to come up with a concrete and relevant structure of curriculum that would best fit the needs in the region.
- Staff Development requirements
- Research/Training Linkages
- Electronic Connectivity in the participating departments
- Program approval process in the various universities concerned
- Calendar synchronisation
- Costing and Financing Strategy for the program
- Program governance
While the study on Program profile structure and content gave detailed information on the masters course itself (how the masters course will be offered), the other studies focused on the broader aspects of the necessary conditions within the participating departments in order to adopt and offer the masters course effectively and sustainably.