Education Knowledge

Posted May 1997

Agricultural Education and Training:
Issues and Opportunities

prepared by the Agricultural Education Group
of the Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE)
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division

From "Issues and opportunities for agricultural education and training in the 1990s and beyond" (FAO, 1997).

Introduction and overview

In a rapidly changing social and natural environment, agricultural education and training is being asked to play a critical role. What are the changes and adaptations, in structure, strategy and policy, that agricultural education institutions need to make to face the new challenges of the twenty-first century?

Faculties of agriculture and agricultural colleges and universities were first formed in the belief that farm production could be increased as a result of the systematic application of current technology and agricultural research findings. The mission of these early educational institutions was to scientifically study agriculture with the participation of the farming community; to carry the results to a broad range of farmers who could use them; and to train farmers, extension workers, agricultural teachers and researchers so that agricultural production could continue to be increased on a sustained basis.

Intermediate and higher education in agriculture continues to play a decisive role in rural development and sustainable agricultural production. An increasingly interdependent world, however, is producing new challenges for institutions where agriculture is taught. Over the years, the world has changed and, in many of the developing countries, agricultural education and training have failed to adapt and respond to the realities of rural societies.

Curricula and teaching methods and tools often have been developed that are not relevant to the development objectives of individual countries, to the needs of farmers and to the labour market in general. The situation has further deteriorated as a result of economic crises. In many developing countries, the public sector used to absorb the large majority of agricultural graduates. This is no longer the case. Agriculture graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to become employed. Their education in agriculture has not been oriented to the needs of an increasingly sophisticated commercial sector. Environmental degradation, rapid changes in scientific and technical knowledge, the changing role of women in society and the increasing marginalization of agriculture and rural life all call for changes in agricultural education.

In response to the urgent need to review and adjust teaching and training programmes in agriculture at all levels, FAO carried out three complementary initiatives as part of its overall work to improve agricultural education and training throughout the world. Two expert consultations dealing with these issues were held in Rome. The first, in 1991, was to discuss the results of a sample survey of 20 agricultural universities, colleges and other institutions selected from throughout the world. The results and recommendations of this meeting of authorities in the field of higher agricultural education are summarised in the document "Strategy Options for Higher Education in Agriculture: Expert Consultation'.

The second expert consultation was held in 1993 and was titled "Integrating Environmental and Sustainable Development Themes into Agricultural Education and Extension Programmes". This consultation identified some of the obstacles and challenges to be faced in integrating such themes in higher agricultural education, particularly in developing countries. It suggested some measures to strengthen the environmental and sustainable development content of programmes of teaching, research and public service. Case studies commissioned for the consultation illustrated the current situation in selected faculties of agriculture in ten countries.

In addition, eight regional round table meetings were organised throughout the world with the participation of heads of university faculties of agriculture, agricultural colleges and technical education institutions, high schools and officials of Ministries of Agriculture and Education. These meetings focused on specific problems faced by agricultural education and training in each of the regions. The round tables aimed at analysing problems and opportunities in each region to assist governments in the development of future educational programmes. The meetings were intended as the first steps toward practical action that could be carried out to improve agricultural education at the national and regional levels.

This document highlights the problems, issues and recommendations which were discussed at the round table meetings and the expert consultations. It also draws attention to other issues which confront agricultural educators in the developing countries. Many of the issues were raised by one or more round table meeting. This should not be taken to imply that the issues are not relevant to other regions, but only that they were particularly noted by specific round tables during the discussions. Throughout the text, round tables at which particular issues were raised are referred to in bold text, e.g. Asia and Pacific.

The following terms are used throughout the paper:

It should be noted that many of the issues raised during the round table meetings and the expert consultations, and some of the solutions and recommendations proposed, are not exclusive to agricultural education and in many cases apply to other fields. The results of the meetings and discussions, however, clearly demonstrate that agricultural universities, colleges and schools face major challenges in the next century. Meeting these challenges will require new strategies, innovative leadership and institutional reforms.

Table of contents


A changing world


1. The role and challenges of agricultural education and training

2. Introducing new topics into the agricultural curriculum

3. Internal issues in agricultural education


1. Adjusting training to employment needs and entrepreneurship

2. From public service needs to the needs of the private sector and self employment

3. Relationships with regional and international organizations


Conclusions and recommendations

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