Plenary & Roundtable Sessions-Joey

Overall, the plenary sessions were a great testament to how international collaboration can generate good will and provide for the transfer of ideas and knowledge.  Just the fact that the conference was held in Windhoek seemed to do a great deal for the enthusiasm of local institutions and their commitment to agricultural development.  The plenary sessions featured speeches by dignitaries from Namibia as well as the host universities involved in the conference.  The organizations also presented their current activities and their hopes for the World Conference.  This gave a good overview to the profession and also established the clear benefits from such interdisciplinary and international collaboration.  Agricultural education, extension, information resources, etc. all have important rolls to play in international agriculture development.  These are all tools that institutions can utilize for getting technology and information to communities.  Effective technology transfer depends on rich dialogue to better understand the contexts and means by which agricultural issues can be communicated across borders and among cultures.

The plenary on the new USAID extension collaborative research support program was very informative.  Even though there were many questions about the new program, it was good to see that USAID was giving attention to the need for broader understanding of international agricultural extension systems.  The extension CRSP presentation was helpful to understand the US focus on assistance and the direction that USAID is moving in regards to Feed The Future.  However, the program conceptualization was focused on process and not enough on concept or structures to make sure that science and research were effectively reaching farmers.

The roundtable session was good for quick overviews of topics.  I attended sessions on submitting publications for the AIAEE journal and on using advanced technology for recording survey results.  The session on publications was very helpful in that it provided good overview of submission process and the requirements for the articles to be submitted.  The survey recording tool was an electronic pen that recorded everything written on special “finger-print” paper surveys.  The moderator used this method in South Africa and it seems like a really good way to record information.  For implementation in rural parts of Sub-Saharan Africa or in smaller surveys, the costs and durability might be concerns.

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Research Session-Joey

The work and papers presented during the joint international agriculture education World Conference in Windhoek, Namibia were a good representation of both global scholarship and localized approaches to technology transfer and rural development.  A few examples are a presentation given on Sasakawa SAFE program training rural extension workers in west Africa, a rural community survey in Ethiopia, and an FFA sponsored student experience in Zambia.

Sasakawa Foundation has long supported agricultural development efforts throughout Africa.  They are broadly known for their efforts to combat hunger and make a difference improving on-farm productivity.   In Mali, Sasakawa has supported providing training to agricultural extension workers providing them professional development opportunities to increase their effectiveness in working with farming communities.  The project aims to strengthen agriculture education in general but is focusing on extension workers as the mechanism for driving change.  The goals are to increase human capital, generate new indigenous information, and disseminate agricultural technology to where it is needed.  The program consists of both pre-service and in-service training to create a broadly skilled professional able to comprehensively assist communities.  Interesting that many extension agents were wanting programs on biotechnology and advanced agriculture methods.  Some of the issues encountered in the program included farmers really needed access to credit along with extension training, the SAFE program is unsure how to adequately assess farmer impact of extension training, and needed more contact with women extension professionals.

Next presentation was about a rural community survey activity in Tigrey, Ethiopia.  The study looked at quickly appraising the situation in drought stricken communities and was a great illustration of the differences between a rapid rural appraisal (RRA) method and a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) method.  This study in Tigrey went to great efforts to understand the needs of the communities in their own terms rather than providing a structured survey.  An especially striking aspect of the survey was to ask the community to recreate their geography – first with sticks and stones and dirt and then on a blackboard.  This exercise seemed to not only be valuable in understanding the surrounding area and the composition of the community, it also helped in understanding the internal dynamics between community leaders as they went through the process of constructing the map.  Another exercise mentioned was asking the community to create a community calendar.

Creating opportunities for student international engagement is critical to a well-round global outlook.  Supported by external donors, the FFA sends their leaders to areas around to expose them to different agricultural contexts.  This presentation dealt with two students who traveled to Zambia to look at conservation agriculture mechanisms and resource conservation.  The students worked with a program called COMACO and the “Its Wild” outreach marketing effort to connect vulnerable communities to agricultural markets and enlist their help to protect wildlife and other resource conservation efforts.  This program is a perfect example of exposing students to global agriculture and the themes of hunger, conservation agriculture, competition over resources, and the need for global cooperation.  This program seemed to do an excellent job creating global linkages for our future leaders in agriculture.

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In rural Africa as in many societies, agriculture is at the heart of every activity throughout the day.  Communities are structured around cultivating fields, tending livestock, preparing food, fetching water, and gathering firewood.  These activities differ widely between communities depending on level development and certainly differ between developing and developed countries.  However, many similarities can be observed, especially when comparing farming communities to farming communities.  Similar values and daily concerns can be seen, although customs and technology used are quite different.   A farmer in Africa and a farmer in Texas might both be concerned with how to irrigate their crops during a drought, where to source feed for their cattle, and how to provide an education for their children.

This comparison has implications for how natural resources are conserved and managed.  Both communities might feel the need to safeguard resources for future use; however, community or family survival would certainly come first.  A community in Africa might be less worried about soil degradation if the standard practice is to move cattle or crops after each season.  Because of such practices and lack of land tenure, securing access to land and water sometimes becomes a contentious issue, even a violent one.

Namibia (like several in Africa) is interesting in that there are many levels of development.  In the north you have completely undeveloped “traditional” tribal communities.  This is not only reflected in economics (no monetary system) but also in cultural beliefs, education, and infrastructure.  Agriculture is used for subsistence and a store of wealth, not as a livelihood.  You have some emerging farmers that might have access to land and access to education and technology – but lack capital and market linkages to fully make the transition from subsistence to commercial farming.  In Namibia, there are institutional barriers to agricultural trade.  The most tangible (and real) barrier is the veterinary control line that prevents any livestock products from the north of the country from entering into markets.  This eliminates any agricultural based rural economy in the north.

In the south, land is controlled by a relatively minority of people and the major agriculture industry is beef cattle.  Beef is a primary export of Namibia after extractive mining.  In the south, these landholders and the agriculture industry is quite sophisticated.  Have such advanced industry is good in that it creates jobs and promotes income for the country as a whole but the internal barriers, differential access to land, and lack of rural education all contribute to high income disparities within the country.

The cultural systems in Namibia are equally divided.  Like South Africa, the white population of Namibia is dominated by German, Afrikaner, and British heritage.  While German influence has lessened, Namibia’s close political and economic linkages with South Africa are apparent everywhere.  Stores, banks, cars, and individuals are all similar.  For the black populations in South Africa, there is increasing professional and skilled opportunities for a few.   Those who have work and have education are able to find jobs in various agriculture, tourism, service, and mining industry.  The remainder of the black population is based in tribal-based communal settlements north of the veterinary control line with very little opportunity for advancement.

In the United States, we still have a few issues of inequality in the rural sector mostly around issues of employment in Native American reservations and immigrant communities.  But the United States has taken great strides in providing economic development for the rural disadvantaged communities, integrating through education, professional development, and infrastructure connectivity.

In summary one of the largest detriments to the social and economic advancement of Namibia is the veterinary control line.  It seems almost to be a line of political convenience in that it keeps control on both the livestock population and the rural population.  There should be concrete efforts to move that line gradually north providing more opportunities to the rural sector and integrating the agriculture economy of the country.

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Meet Our Student Bloggers-Joey

Howzit!  (Kinda like Howdy! but from South Africa.)  This is Joey King and I just arrived in Namibia… but did not have to travel far.  Quick trip from Johannesburg.  In addition to being a student  in ALEC at Texas A&M, I am also the Associate Director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M.  In that role I am broadly responsible for the operations and strategy of the Institute but for the past year I have spent most of my time in South Africa establishing a new research station for Texas A&M in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

Even though I did not have to travel far, I was excited by the opportunity to come to Namibia.  Many people I talk to in South Africa spoke highly of Namibia – both in terms of the scenery and also the people.  Namibia shares much in common with South Africa but has a much smaller population and less diversified economy.  So my expectations about this visit were mostly formed by the conversations with people in the region and my experiences living in rural South Africa.

Prior to my arrival, I knew a little about the country – the Namib desert, the pristine coastlines, the beef industry, the German colonial legacy, and the strong economic and cultural connection to South Africa.  Namibia is a part of the currency union in southern Africa (Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland all peg their currency to the South African Rand), so business and trade are dependent upon its relationship with South Africa.  Recently, because of the strength of Rand, this has caused issues for international agricultural exports (mainly beef) from Namibia to major markets.  I was anxious to see how this played out in society.  What were the cities like? What were the villages like?  How similar were things to South Africa?

Another aspect of Namibia that raised my curiosity was the dynamics of race relations in the country.  Again influenced by my experience in South Africa, I wondered if the political rhetoric was racially charged, how had Namibia been able to develop after its independence from South Africa and post-apartheid policies, what were the people like and how did they relate to foreigners.  So my time in South Africa has made me even more intrigued by this unique neighbor.  I am looking forward to the week here and learning more about the people, culture, economy, and agriculture of Namibia.

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Namibia Experiences-Rachel

After completing the post-Conference tour through the northern region of Namibia, I can say that the country is much of what I expected it to be. Over the course of the week we came across a variety of animals, including four of the big five; lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, springbok, gemsbok, ostrich, bush babies, and an array of birds.  My personal favorite has to be the cheetah that gave my hand a lick at the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Here we learned about the importance of biodiversity in the cheetah’s lifespan on earth and their value as predators to a thriving ecosystem.

We were all able to enjoy a rich segment of the Namibian culture when various lodges’ wait staff performed traditional native dances during our evening meals.  One of these being in dedication to my twenty-first birthday, entitling me to true sundowners in the states. At the end of our travels I went on a city bus tour of Windhoek.  Our driver took us past the Parliament of Namibia, some local schools, a fireman training station in session, and various manufacturers of beer and the likes.  We were also able to drive through the township of Windhoek and visit a meat market.  The township itself consisted of what appeared to be a never ending span of metal shacks that house around two thirds of Windhoek’s population.  Further into the township, we stopped at an enormous shed-like pavilion filled with vendors of clothing, meat, and other small foods. Though a little tough, my samples of meat were great!

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Howdy Readers,

I am currently wading among travelers at the food court in the Johannesburg airport, awaiting my flight which departs eight hours from now, smelling an eclectic mix of Seafood Bar/Breakfast Waffle/Subway smells, and listening to Lionel Ritchie serenade me with, “Once…twice…three times a lady.” Oh the life of an airport itinerant. The thought occurs to me, “What better way to chip down at my departure time than blog about two of the round table discussions at the AIAEE World Conference?” Are the breaths sufficiently bated?

I began at Table 3, where the theme was the sustainability of privatizing agricultural extension in Namibia. I was attracted to this table because of Dr. Mutimba’s presence.  He was the man who threw elbows during the plenary session and called out the AIAEE membership for – and I am paraphrasing here – staying in a Hilton (not in the metaphorical sense), when we could find a simpler place with mosquito nets and invest our savings into a local development project. I vote yea.

The conversation was lively at Table 3 as we debated the benefits of public vs. the costs of private extension. The time ran away from us, but one key point was that private extension can work and be sustainable with commercial farmers, but due to its high transaction costs, will never be accessible to smallholder subsistence farmers and therefore should be highly subsidized. On a rather depressing note, it was mentioned at the table that it is very unlikely – regardless of development strategy- for poor smallholder farms to be profitable and that we can only hope to help them maintain a level of food security.

The bell rang and I was off for Table 9 where Dr. Shinn led us through some interesting thoughts in Post Conflict Development. His take is that the situation in the Middle East breaks down into a short and a long term problem, water access and land tenure respectively. He suggested a stricter recognition of land title to solve the age old problem of poorly defined property rights: land loaned from the government is not as likely to be improved or productive in comparison to private lands. Dr. Shinn suggested that land tenure should be in accordance with ancient tribal property lines and that the dialogue must rise from the ground level and be met with government policy shifts.




Gwen, Ryan and Samantha at the Kunene River, Angola in the background. Gig 'Em Ags!


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Plenary Session Recap-Rachel

In the second World Conference plenary session, Dr. David Lawver facilitated a Q&A between qualified stakeholders, Martin Eweg, Dr. Jeff Mutimba, and Dr. Kristin Davis, as well as the members who attended.  Before questions were asked, it was suggested that in an effort to attract more people to the field, work should be done to glamourize or “sexy”-fi agriculture and extension.  The underlying idea being that with more people who capture an interest in the subject, organizations and extension agencies will have a more diverse and well-rounded group to hire from. This would allow them to combat a wider range of problems with innovative and improved tactics.

Martin Eweg addressing the audience during the Plenary Session: Stakeholders Respond

While I agree with this logic to a certain extent, I fear that it could also lead to an adverse reaction by attracting a less desirable group of people to the field. These thoughts were solidified when a member of the audience brought to the panel’s attention their dire need for those working in the field to improve upon their cultural sensitivity.  One man even suggested to take a break from the five star hotel we were staying in, get a mosquito net, and spend some quality time with the communities that so many would like to help.

The panel members did go into depth on the importance of having more people in the field who truly want to help and make a difference. However, my impression of making something sexy or glamorous is that it would attract people who are purely interested in making money or some form of personal gain.  I’m sure that by planning ahead and using the right marketing strategies this predicament could be avoided.  Another suggestion that I was glad to hear was when a woman threw out the notion of integrating health education with agricultural extension efforts.  These two subjects are highly related, and should this idea begin to be put into effect more often, I feel that we would see better results on a more regular basis.

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