Frans Swanepoel to lead national ASSAf consensus study

Prof Frans Swanepoel (photo), Deputy-Director of the African Doctoral Academy has been appointed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) to chair a national consensus study to revitalise Agricultural Education and Training (AET) in South Africa. Frans Swanepoel to head ASSAf agriculture consensus study

The mandate of the ASSAf Consensus Studies is to provide evidence-based advice to government on matters of critical national importance to address issues of human capital development. The consensus panel will consist of 12 experts in relevant scientific disciplines. International experts include Prof Adipala Ekwamu, Executive Secretary of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), Uganda; and Prof Alice Pell, former Vice-Provost, and currently with the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), Cornell University, USA.

“I am honoured to lead this high standing ASSAf consensus study panel, and especially this expert group, to address the AET challenges that South Africa faces. Through the study, we will aim to clarify the challenges, issues and priorities of AET and provide suggestions for practical solutions that can help the agricultural and higher education sectors in furthering AET for development. The study will pull together state of the art knowledge from within SA, regionally and globally to advance out of the box thinking regarding the principles, values and character of AET for development with a clear emphasis on models that will assist in cultivating leaders and change agents at all levels of the agricultural sector,” said Swanepoel.

Swanepoel is an accomplished scholar in the field of agricultural development and human capacity building in South Africa and internationally. Formerly, he held positions as Dean of Agriculture at the University of Fort Hare, and as Director of the Postgraduate School of Agriculture and Rural Development at the University of Pretoria. He is a Research Fellow at the Institute for African Development (IAD) at Cornell University, and serves on the Board of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa.

The appointment comes in the wake of the Third Tertiary Education for Agriculture (TEAM)-Africa workshop which was hosted by Stellenbosch University (SU) in November 2012. TEAM-Africa is a New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative, funded by the World Bank, with a focus to bring greater efficiency to African tertiary agricultural education to produce graduates to address the challenges of improving agricultural productivity on the continent. The initiative forms part of the NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), assisting African countries to reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development.

Swanepoel’s experience in the field of AET recently also culminated in an authoritative publication entitled “Towards impact and resilience: Transformative change in and through agricultural education and training in sub-Saharan Africa” of which he was the chief editor. The book is published by the Cornell Institute for African Development (IAD) as part of their Cambridge Scholars Publishing Book Series, and will be launched during the Third Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change to be hosted by South Africa in December 2013.

“I believe this book comes at an opportune time as the importance of revitalising AET is gaining increasing prominence in high level forums on the continent,” said Swanepoel.

The World Development Report in 2008 concluded that in the twenty-first century, agriculture will remain a fundamental instrument for poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. In addition, a number of very influential initiatives have pointed out the critical role of agricultural science and technology in this process.”

This study will provide evidence-based information and clear recommendations which will, amongst others, guide the Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET) on the feasibility of establishing a dedicated agricultural university and advise the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in articulating more clearly the importance of agriculture and life sciences in the national imperative of PhD as a key driver.  In addition, this study will also provide recommendations to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on the way forward with regard to the emergence of an agricultural human capital development and knowledge system – a system meant to drive smallholder farmer-led development initiatives and innovation in order to achieve commercial production and increased productivity, food security and economic growth and development.

“The outcomes of this study will also provide solutions to DAFF on how to effectively establish working relationships between agricultural training colleges and universities in the context of the possibility to implement a land grant-like system, as well as on how the AET sector and the ARC should relate to each other, in particular to address agricultural extension challenges,” he said.