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Africa remains an intensely agrarian continent, with two-thirds of its people directly or indirectly deriving their livelihood from agriculture. Higher agricultural education has thus emphasised production of graduates with the requisite skills to drive agricultural development. Despite these efforts, too few graduates in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have the employable skills necessary to transition to the labour market. A similar situation is observable among agricultural science graduates, who are vital to serving rural smallholder farmers. Most Colleges of Agriculture in Africa offer field attachment internships in agriculture and related fields but they are largely designed to cater for undergraduate students and are not part of the training programs at graduate level. To ameliorate this gap, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), a network of 55 member universities in SSA, designed and rolled out an innovative field attachment program award (FAPA), launched in 2010, to serve graduate students. The FAPA is competitively based and designed to encourage students to follow through with the dissemination of their research and to enable them to link more closely with the communities and agencies working in the geographical area where the research was undertaken.
During the period 2010–2015, five grant cycles were successfully implemented and 114 graduate students from 17 countries in SSA awarded. This article discusses the lessons learned during this period by examining two key areas: (1) the application process and implementation of the awards; and (2) the reported outcomes and challenges for grantees. Establishing the award has generated key technical and implementation lessons that the network and individual universities have been able to use to improve and institutionalise processes. Grantees have reported gaining a range of cross-cutting skills in personal mastery, initiative leadership and innovativeness, proactivity, flexibility, communication, analytical capacity, teamwork, networking and advocacy, and technical capacity, particularly in engaging with smallholder farmers. They have also noted significant challenges, in particular around establishing productive and sustainable engagement with smallholder farmers. These outcomes have influenced curricular reviews by member universities, with particular emphasis on these skills sets.
Keywords: graduate employability, internships, sub-Saharan Africa, university
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