Research Sessions: Gwen

Research session I: Extension Reform and strategies

Three research topics were discussed during this session. Tools for sustainable food security and development which involved PRA-RRA, Swim lane Diagrams and value chains was one of the topics. The session examined three tools that are used in improving, planning and implementation of programs in post conflict Afghanistan. The Swim Lane technique is especially useful because it is a systems approach that identifies needs, and arranges data in a related and visual manner that can be easily appreciated.  The fact that it spells the responsibilities of every participating member in a program makes it very relevant in planning. The value chain also depicts the interdependent processes as well as reveals a holistic view of a sector; in this case the agriculture sector. Small farmers are also linked to the markets through the value chain.

In addressing agricultural development assessment and strategies in post conflict Iraq, the most important issues identified was confusing land tenure use and policies that generate more conflict. Constraints encountered in these regions were the absence of local markets and cold storage facilities, inadequate water and electrical distribution, limited communication and infrastructure as well as lack of international educational opportunities. Extreme absence of technology and lack of youth development were also issues that were raised as constraints in post conflict Iraq.

The Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE) strengthens the capacity of African Agricultural institutions. It provides formal continuous educational programs to mid-agricultural and rural development workers so that graduates can then use the leadership qualities acquired to strengthen farmers training needs and economic welfare. SAFE trains its graduates on diverse skills to meet farmer’s needs through a supervised enterprise project (SEP). SEP programs were assessed for the SAFE training program’s effectiveness to determine necessary changes. The views of SEP graduates were assessed on training programs and needs for improvements. Graduates of SEP developed higher competence for trainings that involved learning by doing and they most frequently employed that method with their clients. Cost was also indicated as a constraint that limited the implementation of SEP programs with clients.

Lessons learnt

Using tools like PRA and RRA techniques to obtain information relevant to the farmer that empowers them is useful for developers. Reinforcing and categorizing the obtained information by using Swim Lanes helps depicts relationships between the different stakeholders involved in a development process. Several planning tools can be used simultaneously by development agents for a more efficiency. With Swim Lanes, duplication of development efforts are avoided and accountability can be ensured.

Extension can be viewed as a vehicle for change in post conflict Iraq. Technical and vocational educations are means to encourage fast recovery of the region. Agricultural associations could be valuable in speeding the development process. Also using interdisciplinary teams for implementing the development agenda in post conflict Iraq is a promising practice that facilitates the development process of the region. Most importantly, understanding the culture of the people of the region is very crucial in implementing any development activity.

Funding continues to be a big problem with extension services. Also, collaboration between government extension services and NGOs as well as between extension and research is lacking. This is unfortunately a major challenge with Africa’s extension services as emphasized by the SAFE program.

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Research Sessions-Rachel

During the first research session, I attended two meetings with a focus on Community Development. The first of which involved a presentation that reviewed what factors are taken into account when measuring the sustainability of development projects put into practice by various NGOs in Swaziland.  Among these factors are the levels of participation, the involvement of agricultural extension officers, the availability of resources, and the members’ leadership skills.  Their research found that it is the amount of training undergone by the NGOs’ members that is the number one contributor to their effectiveness.  The second meeting I attended that was based on community development

In the second meeting I attended with the basis of community development, Austen Moore provided a thorough rundown of the poor agricultural situation in the Lacluta sub-district of Timor Leste; the poorest country in Asia. From his research, Austin found that to effectively assist each community’s needs, more emphasis should be placed on target areas within the region, as opposed to trying to solve the problems occurring everywhere at once.  The importance of combining the old agricultural practices with the new was also noted. This is a wise detail to bring attention to as it gives respect to the community and its culture, thereby improving the likelihood of their receptiveness of newer, more sustainable practices.

I also attended a meeting in the category of Information and Communication Technologies. Here, Dr. Theresa Murphrey and Dr. Tracy Rutherford assessed students’ perceived value of four popular social networks applied to agricultural education.  These four social outlets included MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and SecondLife.  I am familiar with and also not too enthralled by the first three, however, the latter caught my interest.  SecondLife is an online, virtual community used around the world that one can enter by creating a membership through the software.  The program can be used for social, business, gaming, and, most importantly, educational purposes. Students are able to log in and attend classes with the elements of race, distance from home, and a chunk of change that would otherwise have been spent on a physical class setting – all completely eliminated.  One of the most unique opportunities it offers is the ability to witness virtual weather conditions within the comfort of your own home. On AgriCulture Island, students were able to study the before and after effects of a hurricane.  Although a poll from students has shown it to be strongly disliked, I feel that with time, improvements to the software, and the achievement of a greater value for education, SecondLife could make a significant impact on the way we teach and learn around the world.


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Culture Perspective-Gwen

Agricultural Practices in Namibia are distinct from those in America. Namibia can be described as an Agrarian Nation because a greater percentage of the farmers practice subsistence farming with less than three hectares of farm land. A few farmers own the bulk of the farm land. This contrasts with industrialized America where the majority of the farmers are large scale producers. A visit to the Etunda communal farm portrayed the government’s effort to address the problems of small farm holders and returning refugees. This is a giant step by the government to alleviate poverty and ensure food security to its population. I was impressed by his effort made by the government.

My observations of the Etunda communal farm revealed natural problems of soil fertility salinity and water logging during rainy seasons. I believe productivity can be improved with appropriate technologies (liming, agricultural chemical inputs or sustainable natural fertility methods (leguminous cover crops and trees). Man-made problems also compound the natural problems. I still observed bush fires in the communal farms. The culture and mind set of the local farmers might be a big challenge to addressing food needs.

Simon and Gebhart sharing information about the irrigation project.

Although the country is arid with erratic heavy rainfalls, there is no mechanism in place to collect the excess abundant water during the rainy seasons to serve the crops during the dry seasons. A water collecting cistern will be beneficial to ensure food security. I believe investment in water harvesting and probably bore holes to collect water for agriculture will improve productivity. Texas is semi-arid like Namibia but has been able to exploit its ground water for crop production.  Namibia can learn from this experience. The country imports 50% of its food consumption even though its population is less than three million. If nothing is done to address its food needs, the situation may become dire with population growth. American on the contrary is food self-sufficient and exports its excess food to the rest of the world.

The average Namibian farmer’s emphasis is in livestock and game production. I suppose initiating farmers in the production of new food crops might be a challenge to the agricultural professionals of the country  especially with ethnic groups’ like the Himbas with strong cultural values. However hope is not lost. Americans were able to change the mindset of Native Americans, so I suppose the Native Namibians mindset can be changed for good with time. Cultural change takes time to happen.  Generally I am impressed with the development of Namibia especially for the fact that the country was torn in conflict for a long time and gained its independence only in 1990. The country is also an attractive ground for individuals interested in development work and investors so I suppose given a few more years the country would experience enormous growth and economic development.

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Meet Our Student Bloggers-Gwen

Howdy! I am Gwendoline Nyambi, a Fulbright Scholar from Cameroon (fondly called Miniature Africa). I leave that to you to find out why Cameroon is described as such. I am a current PhD student in the department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at Texas A & M University.  I major in Agricultural Education and my area of interest is in Agricultural Extension with emphasis on appropriate technology development that best suit small scale farmers to increase food production. I am also interested in research on alternative income generating activities that can improve on rural livelihoods.

I have travelled to other neighboring African countries, Nigeria, Benin Republic and Equatorial Guinea. Another international experience I had was to Thailand where I was able to experience firsthand conflicts that arise from resource management between farmers. However, this is my first visit to a Southern African country, Namibia. I expect to see the natural beauty of Namibian wildlife and a very organized and well developed touristic sub sector. I also hope to find a well-developed diary livestock sector and probably a not fully developed agricultural crop sub sector.

My expectations are that the hosting country (University of Namibia faculty and students) will be fully represented in the conference. This will enable them gather valuable information and also create collaborative relationships that may be usefully for the development of the agricultural subsector of the country.  Another major expectation for me is to gain from this intellectual exchange valuable knowledge and experiences that will enhance my professional growth. I hope to forge valuable collaboration and networking with the rest of the participants that is key to tackling global food security. I anticipate experiencing a memorable stay in Namibia.


Samantha, Gwen and Michael at the Baobob Tree during the Pre-Conference Tour

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Research Sessions: Ryan

Howdy again from Windhoek and the AIAEE World Conference,


I just finished chairing my first conference Research Session ever – a little padding for the old CV. The theme of the session was Extension Reform and Strategies and included two papers on Team Borlaug’s work in Iraq and another on the Sassakawa Africa Fund’s work in Mali. I was happy to be assigned this session because international extension reform is the direction I want to launch my career in.

Dr. Glen Shinn, from Texas A&M University, presented a paper focused on methods and best practices in post conflict needs assessing. It was exciting to see a professor I hold in such esteem present research which utilized the same methods I did in my own thesis work: a combination of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). As Dr. Shinn mentioned, these methods may not seem as “clean” or scientific in appearance, but they go a long way in understanding needs at the ground level. He also introduced a method that was new to me, using Swim Lanes to evaluate sustainable value chain investment. Swim Lanes are simple graphics that allow a team of researchers to clearly see and rank each process in the value chain to determine where investment could make the greatest impact. The importance of value chain improvement cannot be undersold in Iraq, as Dr. Shinn quoted a local Iraqi, “Our farmers have lost hope.”

Dr. Jim Hafer from Chief Dull Knife College (who I first met a year ago over a beer in Saskatoon, Canada) presented a paper entitled, “Agricultural Development Assessment and Strategies in Post-Conflict Settings: An Empirical Case Study of Eight Southern Iraq Provinces.” This paper was essentially the physical results of the work that Team Borlaug accomplished over the past few years in Iraq. What stuck out to me during this presentation was the apparent dependence of the Iraqi population on their government. When youth were asked about their career aspirations, many responded with, “I want to work for the government.” This was an interesting similarity I found with my own research in the Tigray Region of Northern Ethiopia, where many livelihoods have been dependent on assistance for years.

I will present my two papers later on today (any lack of detail in this session report can be attributed to my nerves), so please wish me luck. Until next time, same blog time same blog channel.




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Meet our Student Bloggers: Ryan

Howdy Blog Readers,

Today marks my first attempt at blogging and my second attempt at international agricultural conference attending. I relish the opportunity to put away the technical style of thesis writing for a more informal elucidation (thank you Microsoft thesaurus) of my experience in Windhoek, Namibia at the AIAEE World Conference. But first, an introduction:

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 2nd, 1986. While Texas has become my adopted home and international travel my profession, Cincinnati will always be my city. I highly recommend it for travelers looking for some good Midwestern culture. My family left Cincinnati and moved to Houston, Texas when I was four. My sister started attending Texas A&M University soon after, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the school. I decided that if I do nothing else in my life, I will go to Texas A&M University. After moves to Waco, Texas in middle school and Kansas City, Kansas in high school, I accomplished my goal and began studying Biomedical Sciences at the best university in Texas.

My first international experience came to fruition during junior year at Texas A&M. In one immunology lecture, the professor mentioned that if any student wanted to learn more about traveling internationally they should visit his office hours. I went that same day and told him I was interested in visiting Honduras (for the life of me I can’t remember why I picked Honduras), and he ended our conversation with, “I would be happy to send you, just find a group to go with.” He purchased my plane tickets and before you could say “Bienvenidos” I was in Comayagua, Honduras at a Catholic mission with a group of Franciscan friars. The two weeks I spent in Honduras would change so much of my life. My career interests switched from medicine to agriculture. I discovered the Norman Borlaug Institute at Texas A&M, and I entered a graduate program studying international agricultural development thanks to three very special people: Cathryn Clement, Dr. Theresa Murphrey, and my future committee chair Dr. Gary Wingenbach. Most importantly however, during that first trip to Honduras I met Erica, a girl from Chicago whom I managed to trick into engagement.

As many others can attest, international travel is not only contagious but a relentless addiction. I returned to Honduras a number of times with the same Franciscan mission. The passport grew heavier when my graduate thesis research took me to the drylands of Mekelle, Ethiopia, then to Butare, Rwanda for an evaluation internship with the Borlaug Institute’s SPREAD Project, then to the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and most recently the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan for a rapid agricultural assessment.

As I sit here in Windhoek, Namibia’s finest Hotel, I am amazed at how blessed I have been with these international experiences. I remember a conversation with a friend I met at Mekelle University in Ethiopia. He asked me, “Why is it that it’s so easy for you American’s to come into my country, but next to impossible for me to come into yours?” I was struck by that statement. He and I have similar ages, we’ve taken similar classes, written similar papers, made similar grades, but because of powers unbeknownst, I have been able to see the world and he has not. More than anything, these international experiences have woken me up to my own responsibility: to serve those with fewer opportunities, and ultimately, to carry on Dr. Borlaug’s dream of adequate food for all people. Until next blog…



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Local Perspective Research Session

Research Session

During the World Conference, over 50 research presentations were given over topics ranging from information and communication technologies to collaborative linkages.  I took part in the Local Perspective session, chairing the room in which faculty and staff of the University of Namibia gave research presentations.

Dr. Kaurivi (a fellow University of Arizona Wildcat!) presented on the topics of creating alternative livelihoods in the North Central regions of Namibia.  Rural farmers participated in focus groups identifying the crops and resources most important to their livelihood.  Millet, as mentioned in a previous post as the main staple crop of Namibia, was identified as the most important to their livelihood, cattle as most important for income.

In the Omusati region, irrigation projects are more prevalent and the types of crops are more diverse.  While millet and cattle are still important in this area, additional crops like tomatoes and cabbage are also grown.

An interesting aspect of this presentation was the research methods.  Each focus group identified the important crops/resources for their areas and then was given small rocks that they used to give importance to crops.  For example, if a farmer was given 10 rocks, they may have placed 6 on millet, 2 on cattle and 1 on fish.  It’s an interesting perspective on a method that is adaptable to the population you are working with.



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