26 May 2011
Federico II University
Agriculture Faculty, Chinese Room
Royal Palace, Portici (Naples), Italy
The book “Education for Rural People. The role of education, training and capacity development in poverty reduction and food security” has been presented by a member of the Education for Rural People Coordination Unit (FAO) at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Naples Federico II (Portici).
Following the presentation, several students and professors commented on the book through their own experience, both touching on both questions concerning single individual countries and questions having a general character. Satisfaction was expressed by the Dean, Professor Paolo Masi, and others, including Prof D’Urso, who organized the meeting, for the contacts having been resumed between the Portici University and FAO.
In particular, the following comments and interventions were made:
a) On problems related to specific Developing Countries (DC) a visiting professor from the Faculty of Agriculture of Gulu (Uganda) drew attention to on specific problems concerning his country adding that education and training in rural areas were still fragmented: with lack of secondary and technical and vocational education and training (TVET); and particularly lack of agricultural TVET. The quality of education was still lacking low and the school did not constitute a social cohesion factor. Parents hesitated to send their children to school, feeling that this took detracted labour away from to the family agricultural economy without giving any substantial return in terms of developing individual capacities to live and work in the rural environment.
The government had invested more significantly in education in the rural areas of the North than in the rest of the country: this had created an imbalance not only between rural and urban areas but also between different regions of the country. Two initiatives could contribute to changing this such a situation: the cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education, and incentives to retain the teaching staff in rural areas.
A professor added that people were abandoning the rural areas in the North of the country, where refugee camps were located, for fear of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. In the past people fled wild animals, today war and violence. Rural areas were therefore deprived of agricultural know how.
NGOs were active in education in rural areas. However they were often identified with religious missions and therefore a reaction of refusal was generated. He had personally seen Farmers’ Field Schools operating in his village and was happy to have seen this experience to be reported into the FAO book. This publication had both a theoretical and practical approach, and was therefore very useful for building the capacity of those working in the field.
b) A visiting professor from Cuba said that the Cuban Government was following a decentralization policy. With reference to the FAO book quoted above, the professor said that such a measure had both positive and negative aspects. It was positive because the central government was able to transfer funding to local authorities funding for education in rural areas, teachers, learning materials etc. It was negative as it implied a risk of corruption due to wide spread poverty.
c) The Dean of the Agricultural Faculty of the Portici University hinted in turn to Uganda, to recall the cooperation that had developed between his University and the Faculty of Agriculture of Gulu as a positive practice. On the stream of the successful experience of the GULUNAP project between the Faculties of Medicine of the University of Naples Federico II and Gulu University (http://www.gulunap.unina.it), an agreement has been signed in 2007 – and renewed in 2011 - to extend such collaboration to the Faculties of Agriculture and Science. Another example was cooperation with South Africa where exchanges of professors and researchers is going on (Memorandum of Understanding signed on Oct.17, 2011).
d) A student said that his country is rich in resources but these should be far better handled. In some areas education for survival for small farmers was necessary. To that end, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) committed itself to teaching to poor farmers irrigation techniques to poor farmers through a “learning by doing” method.
e) Without regard to specific countries, a student of the PhD course noted that people studying agriculture bore a sort of “Stigma”, agricultural studies being seen only as a second option with respect to other courses. This was not always the case in Europe, where agriculture common policies assure subsidies to farmers, whereas. On the contrary, in the developing countries (DC) governments tended to keep low food prices low ion urban markets to avoid social strife. This could not but affect negatively affected local farmers who were not in a condition to compete with the subsidized prices of northern markets.
f) Professor Cembalo – an agrarian economist – broadly criticized present economic trends in developing countries (DC). Economics tends to deal with efficiency and broad scenarios more than with equity in income distribution. Education is per se a long term investment, but the the risks of getting lost in rural areas, where the socio-economic system is presently getting disrupted, exists. In fact, if governments do not take it upon themselves to promote systemic socio economic investment (health, employment, education) in rural areas, education alone risks favoring a “brain drain”. Believing that it is possible to promote a virtuous cycle that overcomes poverty without a systematic approach to rural development is mere romanticism. However, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can operate both ways. If they only convey unidirectional messages from the urban areas, they can only cannot but consolidate the “Stigma” and increase the trend towards urbanization. If, on the contrary, they are used to convey education and information to improve the quality of life in rural areas in a global world, they can be a development means.
During this event, follow-up actions stemming from the meeting were suggested.