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USAID long-term agricultural training assessment: Southern Africa

Ann Skelton, Donald Jackson

Development Associates

12 January 2005

SARPN acknowedges the Development Experience Clearinghouse website as the source of this document:
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Executive Summary

The objective under the Africa/SD contract executed in April of 2002 was to design short and long-term training that would improve the capacity of African agriculturalists. Accordingly assessments were carried out by Development Associates in Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania in 2004 which led to a series of short-term training activities focused on capacity building. Training workshops were supported in Mozambique, Kenya, and Nigeria between 2002 and December of 2004. A new assessment covering the broader region of Southern Africa was designed to focus on the commitment to long-term training in agriculture aimed at the continued development of African leaders.

The goal of the new assessment was to gather innovative yet practical ideas for the design of a long-term Masters level pilot program that would develop future host-country leaders in agriculture, science and education. The terms of reference for the assessment team included the following objectives for the assessment inquiry.

  • To identify the current knowledge and skill deficits within the agricultural community in specific countries of the Southern Africa Region;

  • To determine Mission and host country interest and needs for long-term training in agriculture;

  • To identify institutions that might serve as partners with US institutions of higher education;

  • To describe international agricultural research centers (IARCs) and local institutions that are potential collaborators in the forthcoming pilot; and

  • To provide information for the design of a forthcoming long-term-training (LLT) pilot project.
Scope of assessment

A Development Associates team comprised of a capacity development specialist, an agriculturalist and various in-country representatives knowledgeable of training and development issues participated in the assessment. In each country the team interviewed stakeholders actively engaged in agriculture, training, higher education, research, and project management.

The following paper reports on the results of assessments carried out between September 27 and November 19, 2004 in selected Southern African countries: Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Malawi, and Zambia. The task complements and builds upon prior agriculture sector assessments carried out separately under the Africa/SD contract in 2003 in Zambia and Mozambique.

Constraints and prior lessons learned

Several issues added complexity to the task of assessment and design. First the conventional training design used by USAID for decades in developing host country leaders was to provide fully-funded scholarship opportunities, often at the PhD level, and located at a US university.

Two things argued against continuing the PhD and US-based strategy: first the costliness of the long and demanding PhD program necessitates a reduction in the actual number of recipients thereby minimizing the measurable effect of the pilot; next, the unfortunate past trend on the part of the student to remain in the US instead of returning to the home-country has created a vocal opposition to the US-based training model. Related to this is the issue that host-country employers frequently failed to honor their commitments to support the student or guarantee employment upon their return after long absence.

The absolute number of training scholarships to be granted will depend upon several variables. First, the number of candidates receiving training can be increased if the pilot program design promotes and leads to the search for outside funds and partnerships to complement USAID’s core monies. Outside sources include foundations or other philanthropic groups as well as the private sector entities working in each country. Several countries, notably Zambia and Angola have private sector involvement in the economy of the country. Many respondents believed that with the right approach, financial support would be forthcoming. A key recommendation in this regard is to develop a detailed pilot program plan with objectives and a clear statement of corporate participation and potential benefits before approaching a target company for support. Next, numbers of scholarships can be increased if the Sandwich Model is selected with most of the time spent in the region rather than the U.S.

Proactive mission and local program support

Staff support on the part of each Southern African Mission is essential to a successful program outcome. The in-country Mission must take responsibility for the selection process and securing visas. For programs in the US, the visa process has become extremely cumbersome since 9/11. Finally the Mission in collaboration with an NGO or other group must manage the logistics and administrative portion of sending a candidate to training abroad whether on the continent or in the US. These steps include inter alia: setting up criteria for selection, constituting a selection committee that can review and cull the unsatisfactory or fraudulent applications, constituting a USAID approval board, handling the pre-departure medical clearance, arranging travel logistics both into the capital city and thence to the training site, arranging English language training (for Madagascar and Angola), disbursing per diem, orienting the departing students, receiving the monitoring reports from each receiving institution. Once a scholarship announcement appears, USAID should expect an outpouring of applications which increase staff workload.

Salient design issues


Of the several issues identified in the discussion section of the report that impact the pilot program design, that of relevance to the African context transcends other design considerations. Though the US training and higher education was extolled as a model which provides extensive course work and demands much of the student, the high tech state of US farming systems does not provide a comparable agricultural model to most of Southern Africa. Specifically, the differing soils, food crops, dietary components, pests, climate, farm systems of Southern Africa call into question [perhaps diminish] the transferability of research experiences designed and carried out in an overseas site. There was near unanimity that research projects be carried out in each student’s home country.

Sandwich program

The program which combines course work in the student’s home university for basic or introductory courses followed by a period of study at a university in the US or South Africa for example is a lower cost option and it combines the best educational model with greater ease of implementation. That is, the student would have to be away from home, family and job for a shorter period of time but would realize a highly valuable credential especially if the degree were to be awarded by a US university. This ‘Sandwich’ arrangement requires a partnership between two institutions agreeing on standards, requirements and ultimately which institution would grant the degree.

Pilot program design models

The report describes four design concepts that could govern the pilot program. These emerged from the interviews in Southern Africa. This team has concluded that the MS level training in one of the combined or ‘Sandwich’ programs that includes study in the home country or region as well as the addition of core or advanced courses at a US institution offers most advantages. The course retains the relevance of coursework, climate, crops and soils of Africa combined with the more advanced and rigorous work demanded in a US university.

Each of the models offers its own advantages and hurdles, however. The models, ranged in ascending order from lowest cost to most costly are:
  • Local Scholarships - To an in-country M.S. program at a local institution of higher learning, this would include an in-country practicum or research activity. This offers the advantage of strengthening the local institution.

  • Regional (Sandwich Programs) - Scholarships to a regional M.S. program at an institution of higher learning, most likely in South Africa; this model could include a ‘twinning’ arrangement with the student’s home university or with a US university, as well as a supervised practicum or research in the student’s home country.

  • US Based Scholarship Program
    • Variant A, Traditional: a complete two-year or longer scholarship to an existing M.S. program at a US university combined with research or a practicum supervised by the student’s US-based advisor in the student’s home country.

    • Variant B, (Sandwich Model): he student would combine studies in the home institution Masters Program (or a regional institution) but attend a US university for specifically designated courses thereby offering the student more advanced or a highly specialized core program. The research or practicum would be designed and carried out under the joint supervision of the US and regional institution.

  • Non-degree Tailor-Made Programs - Scholarships tailor made to the specific needs of a group of students leading to a Certificate of Accomplishment. This would be appropriate for a critical mass of students needing the same course of study. The argument for tailoring the curriculum is to adapt it completely to the Southern African context. A certificate in lieu of a degree is the team’s conclusion that US universities could not award a degree for a course significantly outside the approved curriculum.
Note: The proposition of doing intensive study, albeit in the United States higher education environment, but failing to achieve a degree did not receive wide endorsement.


The assessment team recommends a combined program — the Sandwich Model — in which students enroll in their home university for introductory courses but receive advanced or specialized coursework in the US.

This will require partnership arrangements to be concluded between the local universities and US institutions. Variations of the Sandwich Model are discussed under Program Design Steps in Section V.

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