There are very direct implications for agricultural education in the area of human resource capacity building since by definition the term (and the process) has education, both formal and non-formal, at its core. In its broadest interpretation, capacity building encompasses human resource development (HRD) as an essential part of development. It is based on the concept that education and training lie at the heart of development efforts and that without HRD most development interventions will be ineffective. It focuses on a series of actions directed at helping participants in the development process to increase their knowledge, skills and understandings and to develop the attitudes needed to bring about the desired developmental change.
Human resources, along with man-made capital and natural resources, are essential for development. Many dimensions of human resource development are final end-objectives of development, e.g. literacy, better health and nutrition, economic well-being. It is generally recognized that a country's human resource capacity for productivity is a pre-requisite for social and economic development. However, the problems of development, and in particular food security and poverty, are complex, and improved HRD is only one of several necessary conditions for social and economic progress.
Sustainable development, with its management, technological and institutional aspects, clearly encompasses human resource development, and in particular HRD in agriculture. Unfortunately, the term HRD has been applied to such a wide array of activities that its meaning is often ambiguous. To be meaningful, HRD needs to be carefully defined.
HRD is both a process and a goal. It involves a planned approach to learning aimed at changes in knowledge, skills, understandings, attitudes and values, and in the behaviour of a learner or group of learners. The goals of HRD will vary with the context and the learners themselves. It is often associated with a technical goal -- to provide a trained work force, to promote the knowledge and skills required by a society to acquire greater prosperity; in short, to provide or build productive capabilities. However, for some educators and development planners HRD is an end in itself, and its goal should be realising human potential and developing individual self-reliance.
An important question is: What new demands does the goal of sustainable agricultural and rural development put on a nation's agricultural education and training institutions? Capacity building as it relates to the strengthening of national agricultural education is critical given that many of these institutions have suffered debt- and structural adjustment-induced budgets cuts in the last decade. At the same time that these institutions were suffering cut-backs, the number of youth needing jobs was expanding, global agriculture was rapidly changing and information about environmental concerns was multiplying.
Institutional analysis is a pre-requisite for agricultural institutional capacity building. It involves assessing how the talents and energies of staff at agricultural universities, colleges and technical schools can be enlisted and upgraded on a regular basis to improve these institutions' operations. In many agricultural education institutions there is a lack of an effective human resource management system (HRMS). An institutional analysis should assess the existing HRMS and design improvements. Among other areas, there should be attention to results-oriented performance appraisal; mechanisms for improving communication to and from staff; identification of knowledge/skill gaps and staff training needs; teams skills development and the reinforcement of teamwork; and transparent staff selection and promotion processes.
In recent years, declining or stagnating investment has resulted in deterioration of the quality of teaching, the quality of students and the physical and academic infrastructure. Institutional analyses should be applied to agricultural education systems to assess such issues as infrastructure upgrading, high recurrent costs, relevance to national and local rural and agricultural development needs and institutional capability to deal with new areas of training, e.g., natural resources management, farming systems, bio-technology, agri-business.
The issue in many countries is both the quantity and quality of trained human resources. The supply of technical and agricultural professionals in many developing countries, especially those in Africa, is seriously deficient. A decade ago in Africa, the number of technical agricultural personnel in many countries was less than 50% of the year 2000 minimum requirement. As that year approaches, it is apparent that not enough progress has been made. Even in those countries were the number of agricultural technicians meets the minimum requirement, there are severe shortages in certain critical fields (e.g., agro-ecology, forestry, water conservation).
The quality of higher education is of course as important as the number of educational institutions and agricultural graduates. For example, policies for improving higher education in Latin America in past decades have given priority to expansion of the educational system. In 1955 there were 45 agricultural universities and colleges in Latin America; by 1988 the number had increased to 300, not including vocational agricultural education institutions. The main challenge now facing higher education in Latin America is how to improve the quality rather than how to extend the coverage, which means that educational innovation should be at the top of the agenda.
One area where innovation is needed in agricultural education is in the curricula and programmes of study offered to students. At the 1991 FAO expert consultation on "Strategy Options for Higher Education in Agriculture" participants recommended that a holistic approach be used when integrating sustainable development into curricula because of its multi-dimensional aspects, not only in terms of technological concerns, but also with regard to economic, social, cultural, ecological and policy matters. This requires a participatory approach to curriculum review and revision that includes employers of graduates and members of the local community as well as the traditional members of the academic community.
To help institutions with this, FAO's Agricultural Extension, Education and Communication Service is preparing a guide to participatory curriculum development (PCD). This is an approach to the development of a curriculum that brings together two different fields of activity in education -- participation and curriculum development. It seeks to identify, beyond the teachers and the learners, the "stakeholders" who are most interested in a learning programme and to ensure their participation in devising a curriculum. Specific curriculum content is developed by applying a Knowledge-Skills-Attitudes-Behaviour (KSAB) approach in a fully participatory way.
Agricultural education and competency-based training are essential for building the human resource capacity in developing countries required to improve agricultural productivity and to manage natural resources for sustainable development. An urgent need is to improve the quality and content of the agricultural education provided to students. Often the subject matter is minimally relevant to the agro-ecological conditions, technological levels and socio-economic circumstances of local farm populations.
Systematic capacity building in agriculture requires a supportive and enabling policy environment and a realistic investment in both formal and non-formal agricultural education. Policies that create, strengthen and support HRD systems should be a high priority for developing countries, donors and technical assistance agencies. In particular, importance should be placed on HRD in the agricultural and rural sectors given their economic and employment importance in most developing countries.
Human resource and institutional capacity building through agricultural education and training means enhanced investment, expanded international cooperation, improved quality and relevance of education and broadened access to and participation in educational activities, especially by women. A wider financial base will be needed, including increased support from the private-sector. This does not mean, however, that governments can detach themselves from human capacity building responsibilities -- there needs to be a strong national commitment to sustained human resource development, or the goals of sustained agricultural and rural development will not be realized.