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The 3rd cohort of ARI and AgTrain PhD students conclude the two - weeks Field - based Module in Uganda

Participants posing for a photograph at a break during the feedback session to the Makerere University community

 

  • This is the last group under the project.
  • Respective universities  are expected to invest in the program and sustain the quality
  • Project achievements include the implementation of a joint curriculum, building capacity of staff, forming linkages with international programs and creation national stakeholder platforms
  • Students commend the program, more to be done
  • Makerere and RUFORUM pledge to mobilize resources to sustain the program

Makerere University students undertaking PhD in Agricultural and Rural Innovations (ARI) and students from   European partner universities undertaking a course in Agricultural Transformation through Innovations (AgTraIn) have finished the Field- based module on Participatory Research Methods.

The 3rd cohort comprised 19 students from Makerere University of different nationalities including Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania. Four (4) AgTraIn students were from European Universities. The course attracted instructors from Uganda and France.

A section of the third cohort getting a lecture from instructors in Rakai

Makerere University won a grant from African Caribbean and Pacific-European Union Co-operation Program in Higher Education (EDULINK II) to implement a regional PhD programme ARI in collaboration with a similar European – based PhD program AgTraIn.

The partners of the project titled, “Strengthening Human Resource Capacity to Foster Agricultural and Rural Innovations in Eastern Africa”, include Egerton University in Kenya and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Wageningen University of Netherlands, Agreenium in France, University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

The main project activities included: organising and facilitating mobility of students and staff for joint implementation of the ARI programme; transforming some of the ARI modules into e-content for online delivery; adapt and implement one field-based module for both ARI and AgTrain PhD programmes; establish national stakeholder platforms including potential employers and other key stakeholders for professional guidance of ARI PhD programme; and mobilising resources including scholarships for sustainability of the ARI programme.

Makerere University‘s Department of Extension and Innovation Studies  launched  the  Joint Field- based  module for the Regional PhD program in Agricultural and Rural Innovations (ARI) and  Agricultural Transformation through Innovations (AgTrain)  in January 2014. The Department is under the School of Agricultural Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The first cohort of over 50 students from Africa and Europe in June 2014 were dispatched from Makerere University to Nkozi in Mpigi district for the two - weeks field - based module.

Slightly over 40 students went in same area for the same module in June 2015.

This year (2016), 19 students were dispatched from Makerere University to Kifamba sub county, Rakai district in South Western Uganda. The two weeks field based training started on 19th June 2016.

A community feedback session was held on 29th June 2016. Students made presentations to the Makerere University community on 1st July, 2016 at the Conference Hall, School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bioengineering.

Students and instructors posing for a photograph before leaving for a community feedback session in Kifamba Subcounty, Rakai

In terms of funding, this was the last group under the project.

Opening the students presentations to the University community, the Principal College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Prof. Bernard Bashaasha commended the program for the achievements recorded so far and more especially, linking with other international program and bringing the partnership which leverage a lot the capacities and competencies that were available.

Prof. Bashaasha also recognized the fact that the partner universities had been able to mobilise resources and successfully implemented the joint course.

He pledged  the college commitment to be at the forefront in mobilizing resources to take the program forward.

The Principal also expressed the need for staff not to do only academic research perse, but also, endeavor to link academic work to national development needs which is one of the objectives of this program.

A section of the participants assembled at the conference hall at Makerere University

Major project achievements

In terms of the major project achievements, Makerere University Principal Investigator Assoc. Prof. Paul Kibwika told participants that the partner universities were able to develop and implement a joint curriculum.

“The second achievement is building the capacity of the staff especially in the three partnering universities in Africa to deliver quality PhD program. So we have the materials and we have developed the capacity of staff to teach.” He went on to say that:

“The other area of achievement is linkages with other international programs. We linked with AgTraIn where we trained with other European universities to implement some of the modules with European students and this is also a great achievement”.

The other achievement according to Dr. Kibwika was the creation of the national stakeholder platforms which links development and the university to continue with dialoguing and agreeing on areas of focus for training which will benefit development.

Prof. Didier Pilot and Assoc. Prof. Paul Kibwika   during one of the sessions in Rakai guiding students on analysing and grouping farmers startegies and innovations in Rakai

Dr. Kibwika however, pointed out that all partner universities have been relying on resources mobilised outside the universities. He said, one of the challenges is sustainability in terms of resources and the full ownership of the program by universities.

He implored the participating universities to start investing in this program if they are to maintain the quality and the nature of students they have been having.

“The major challenge is the total commitment of universities to own this program and invest in their continuity because the project has been associated with individuals, but now it is no longer a project but a university program and the university must be seen to own this program and take lead in making it successful”. Dr. Kibwika also observed that:

“The other challenge is related to the mobility of the students and staff which is linked to resources but we are trying partly to go online but we cannot go online for everything, we still need at some time to do face to face interactions which is not cheap”.

In May, 2015, a multidisciplinary team of members of staff from Makerere University had   an intensive two weeks training to build their capacity to develop multi - media supported E - learning materials. The team comprised education engineers, teachers, audio visual, ICT and graphic experts from different units. The training was organised by the Department of Extension and Innovation Studies together with European partners and the Department of Distance and Open Learning under the project titled, “Listen and Understand: International Network for Co-operative Production of On-Line Teaching Materials (KOYOKA project)”.

Part of the audio-visual staff of Makerere  that was trained to develop e-content (the two from left)Mr. Mark Wamai and James Kisoro speaking to the instructor, Didier Pilot (right) in Rakai.

The training involved hands on training in the production of multimedia supported e-learning materials using the PhD field - based module in Agricultural and Rural Innovation (ARI) for a start. The training also involved going to the field to record materials, editing and organising the materials for educational purposes in line with the course learning objectives.

 

The intention of the Field-based Module

Dr. Kibwika explained that the intention of going to the field with students to spend two weeks was to make them understand innovations in the context of a farming system say, how do these innovations occur, how do they manifest and the differences in innovations depending on the diversity of the people and environment.

Three propositions guided the field based activities. One was that, there is diversity of innovations which depend on different households that undertake them. Each household has its own strategy and based on their strategy they engage in practices and technologies that they think will make them achieve their strategies at the household.

“We assume that is dependent on three major things. One is that it is dependent on where they are located. Each farmer will do what they do based on where they are located. For instance those located on hills,valleys, plains and lowlands will do what is suitable to that environment. So the students had to look at that and relate to the type of strategies and innovation.” The don explained.

Students doing  evening assignments in groups after field visits and interviews with farmers

The second assumption is that what people do is also dependent on their history. There has been a whole history that brings them where they are and that has influenced the way they do things. So, the students had to do the historical analysis to look at innovations and strategies in respect to their history.

The third assumption was that the diversity in strategies and innovations is also dependent on the kind of resources that the different households’access and the kind of networks they are connected to. Based on these assumptions, students analysed different strategies and how they influence different diversity of innovation that take place in that area.

Part of the students exercises  included making  historical analysis, classifying farmer typologies, household strategies and interventions.

Impact of the training from the student’s perspective

While presenting and reflecting on their field experiences from the joint field training, students’representatives from Africa and Europe commended the program for its advantages resulting from the practical field experiences and diverse interactions of students and staff from different backgrounds.

The European student reported that they had been exposed to different approaches to research using qualitative approach and realised that quantitative research can be used as a second approach.

The other impact of the training was that students had an opportunity for co-learning and sharing experiences, “We have been sharing experiences from different universities and had the opportunity to discuss different research proposals. We managed to improve our proposals from the knowledge and skills learnt from each other”, one of the students said.

        

A student from European universities presenting the benefits of the field based course at Makerere University

She also told participants that by going back to the communities to give feedback, they learnt the importance of sharing the research process and findings with the respondents for purposes of validation and ownership.

She also said that besides providinga good platform to initiate collaborations, the field based course highlighted innovations farmers were already implementing and also triggered community ownership and development.

Beyond the training, a student from  Sokoine University said the training created an opportunity to bring staff and students from different parts of the world laying ground of continuing exchanges using LinkedIn. This,he said, was important for providing updates on research progress and professional development.

“These built networks and sharing can trigger opportunities for collaborations, universities curriculum development, share research programs, invitation to workshops and staff exchanges”, he said.

Students holding discussing and doing assignments after field visits in Kifamba subcounty in Rakai

 

More to be done

As the way forward, participants expressed the need to strengthen the research part of the program and make it good quality particularly, improving the student research supervision and mentorship and staff capacity in assuring quality.

The other obvious criticism against academic work is getting scientific knowledge into use by various stakeholders and getting target users to utilise the knowledge.

Mainstreaming development aspects into the program by deriving research issues from development challenges and functional partnership with development actors was also seen as a crucial.

Also very important was how the universities themselves nurture this kind of program and commit themselves to make it grow and become a popular program internationally.

"After the field module, trainees usually come out highly energized, motivated that they have been exposed to a lot of things that can help them in their research but this commitment and energy has to be sustained. The different supervisors can continuously support them to keep that energy high", Dr. Kibwika said.

Prof. Didier Pilot, one of the instructors from Europe guiding students during discussions in Rakai

The function was officially closed by the Program Manager responsible for Training and Quality Assurance at the RUFORUM Secretariat Dr. Solange Uwituze. On behalf of RUFORUM, Dr. Solange thanked the program PIs, instructors and students for organizing the event and the presentations.

“I know that people behind this program showed a lot of commitment and dedication and in such a collaborative effort it is not easy to mobilize everyone to move together. We really appreciate”. She said.

Dr. Solange expressed hope that the regional forum will figure out how to sustain the program and even make it better. “We will do our best to look for funding because we have this program at heart and we would like it to progress because we train people of relevance. We are funding students on MSc and would like to enable them enroll in such a program and go back to the communities to make an impact”, She said.

                                    

                               Dr. Solange speaking during the students feedback at Makerere University

She thanked all partners for working together for the past four years. She also recognized project funders for the financial and technical support expressing optimism to see the program proceed to the next phase. She urged all partners to work together towards achieving that goal.

 

Story compiled by:

Jane Anyango

Communication Officer, CAES

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