Innovative training helping to drive farming and water solutions in Africa

Published 27 June 2011

Aus aidUNE is providing innovative training to African agriculture advisors and public sector staff to develop much-needed solutions to farming and water problems in their home countries.

In a project sponsored by AusAID, the Federal Government’s overseas aid program, UNE is providing training to over 40 public sector staff involved in agricultural extension research and training in the areas of post harvest storage and processing, and water harvesting and small scale irrigation.

Currently on campus in Armidale are participants are from Burundi, Ghana, Tunisia, Djibouti and Rwanda, with others from Burkina Faso and Egypt having completed training which began in May.

While the original idea for the project had centred on a study tour to expose participants to Australian methods, the UNE team, headed by Professor John Gibson, felt participants not only needed to leave with new skills and perspectives but action plans they could implement practically.

‘While our training provides some key technical information, the focus is on equipping participants with the tools they need to be effective at driving change in their home countries,’ Project co-leader, Dr Julian Prior said. ‘To help do this we are training the participants in agricultural extension techniques and also exposing them to the lessons that can be learned from the experiences of Australian Landcare.

‘A crucial component here is adaptive learning approaches, built around problems and case studies brought by the participants. This means things change as we go along and we ourselves learn what is needed. But the whole thing is aimed at ensuring that each person can leave with a well defined action plan which can be practically implemented.’ He added that an important result of the program was the sharing of solutions already in use elsewhere in Africa by other participants in the program, which been an ‘eye-opener’ for some.

The study tour has also been refined to maximise participants’ building of a network of highly relevant contacts in Australia. Follow up visits by UNE staff would help ensure that action plans developed were working.

‘We are also keen to recognise the central role of women in many agriculture systems and the particular value – in terms of improved health, education and livelihoods – of targeting interventions to women and improving the role of women.’ Dr Prior said. ‘Gender analysis and mainstreaming of gender strategies will be embedded in the training.’

Jacob Zuttah from Ghana’s Irrigation Development Authority came to find out how to understand basic principles of small-scale irrigation in his country’s drier areas and said this could make a big difference to Ghana’s ability to feed its own people. ‘At present we import 80 per cent of our rice needs from Thailand,’ he said. ‘This project will help me to go back home and help design simple, farmer-friendly water harvesting systems for agriculture that we don’t currently have.’  Ibtissem Enneb, a researcher in Tunisia’s Arid Regions Institute, agreed, saying that she was also finding new ways to transfer technology and training to farmers.