Virginia Tech, USAID partnership helps strengthen Afghanistan’s agriculture education system

October 15, 2019

Agriculture is the backbone of the Afghan economy with nearly two-thirds of Afghans engaged in the sector. Yet, decades of strife have had a devastating effect on the rural population, which depends largely on agriculture for income and subsistence. More than a third of crops are lost before being processed because of inefficiencies in agricultural value chains, which reduces the profitability of agribusinesses and the availability of food. Furthermore, a disconnect between the skillset of graduates and the needs of the job market has led to low employment rates.

To address challenges that limit the capacity of the agricultural education system, Virginia Tech has partnered with USAID to launch the Catalyzing Afghan Agricultural Innovation (CAAI) project, an $8 million, five-year program to catalyze innovation in agriculture by training a highly-skilled, modern Afghan agricultural workforce.

The CAAI project seeks to improve the relevance and capacity of agricultural education and create collaborative relationships between the agriculture education and training (AET) system and private sector actors. The project has three focus areas:

  • Strengthen Afghan agricultural education institutions to participate in value chains by training teaching staff at all levels, including high school, vocational, and university instructors.
  • Strengthen research and extension through the formation of research teams that deliver training in effective collaborative research. Training will prepare researchers to identify new agricultural technologies, practices, and approaches to solve practical problems.
  • Coordinate effective information sharing among agricultural market systems participants. The project aims to build and sustain mutually-beneficial, enduring collaborative relationships between members of the AET system and the private sector. These relationships will lead to effective information sharing among agricultural value chain participants and improve the relevance and alignment of agricultural education to workforce needs.

Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) is managing the project. According to CIRED Executive Director Van Crowder, “This project focuses on innovation in agricultural value chains, which involves the range of people, goods, and services involved in commodity production. Traditionally, the public and private sectors have not worked together. Often, the private sector finds that public research and education does not effectively address their needs for new or improved technologies and for skilled agricultural graduates. The Virginia Tech team is addressing these issues and backstopping the Afghan team as they deliver training to university researchers and educators, instructors at agricultural technical schools, and extension agents.”

According to data from the Ministry of Higher Education, only 5 percent of university teachers have a Ph.D. Most faculty members need additional training to improve teaching and take on the non-traditional role of researcher. CAAI provides targeted training to AET instructors to improve their mastery of a variety of teaching techniques and introduce practical exercises into the curriculum. Moreover, CAAI is working to establish relationships between AET institutions and the private sector in order to institutionalize students’ access to meaningful employment and training opportunities, including internships and apprenticeships.

CAAI is also helping to address challenges that affect women’s educational success. In some areas of Afghanistan, women’s ability to travel is significantly limited, and traveling to schools outside a woman’s village or town is a barrier to education. Moreover, female participation in agricultural technical education is concentrated in several provinces, with the majority of schools having no female students.

CAAI’s Education to Females activity (Edu2Fem) is a model for bringing formal agricultural high school education to women in rural areas where direct access to agricultural schools is not possible or schools are not staffed or equipped for female education.

CAAI will pilot the program to test the effectiveness and viability of a blended face-to-face and distance education approach that addresses the main obstacles that keep women from education. Through Edu2Fem, CAAI will identify and test a scalable model for female education that will lead to greater female participation in agricultural education.

Since CAAI launched, trainings conducted by Virginia Tech faculty have benefited more than 1,000 students and faculty members at agricultural and vocational high schools, including 30 percent female participation.

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