Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Narrowing the Gap between Academia and Practice through Agroecology: Designing Education and Planning for Action

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Narrowing the Gap between Academia and Practice through Agroecology: Designing Education and Planning for Action

Article excerpt


The Swedish project Agroecology in Practice" [AGROECOPRAC] has a mission to alleviate poverty in households that depend on small-scale farming systems. The method is to establish agroecology education in farming and food systems that are aligned with challenges in small-scale farming. We recognize overwhelming challenges of low productivity, inadequate inputs, poor equity of food distribution and limitations of market infrastructure that can be overcome by thoughtful applications of appropriate technology, through informed and appropriately trained agricultural stakeholders, including educators. We developed an approach to designing creative education and training for action that integrates farmers' knowledge and practices, development work, extension, education and research using whole-systems approaches from agroecology, with unique applications in universities in Uganda, Ethiopia and Sweden. The approach involves program coordinator workshops, teacher training, coordinator meetings, annual general meetings and short courses to facilitate the establishment introductory courses and MSc programs in agroecology. From participant evaluations we conclude that this approach to planning and implementation is narrowing the gap between academia and practice by fostering shared understandings of small-scale agriculture, introducing new educational methods and promoting communication among stakeholders.

Key words: action research, agroecology, smallscale agriculture, participatory methods, agriculture development


According to World Bank (2007) there are more than 1.5 billion small-scale farms with less than 2 ha of cultivated land, with these farms "the most common form of organization in agriculture, even in industrial countries." Naranjo (2012) presents five mediating factors that describe why small-scale farmers often are caught in a "vicious cycle of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation," including limited access to quality land, lack of control and tenure, limited access to credit, difficulties in allocating labor to family production versus wage earning off the farm and poor access to market infrastructure. Additionally, Altieri and Nichols (2008) claim that research clearly shows small scale farms to be more productive per hectare than large scale farms, due to farmers' understanding of local production resources and striving for production efficiency with internal resources.

This current reality stimulates a challenging question posed by an official from SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency): Why are agricultural universities uniquely focused in their research, education and training on large-scale and highly-mechanized farming systems when more than half of the agricultural lands on this planet are in the hands of small-scale farmers and managed by people in poor households who can't afford the inputs needed for a high-tech farming system?

Mainstream agricultural education programs have been designed to: 1) focus on large scale industrialized farming systems demanding amounts of fossil fuels most peasants cannot afford; 2) present specialized courses where students' knowledge and skills are narrowly concentrated on some components of a farming system; and 3) build on a mechanistic worldview and deliver lectures, problems and/or case-studies where there is a correct answer already decided by the teacher. Such programs may not prepare graduates well for future challenges, where many problems are complex, context-dependent and multifaceted with several potential solutions.

As a response to this situation a SIDA-financed training and education project Agroecology in Practice (AGROECOPRAC) has the objective to support poverty alleviation for rural households based on their small-scale farming systems. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in collaboration with Mekelle University (MU), Ethiopia and Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) hosts the program. …

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