CALS will support agricultural education in Liberia

Faculty members in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will share their teaching expertise to help the West African nation of Liberia rebuild its agricultural education system following almost two decades of civil war and unrest.

CALS is one of several partner agencies participating in the Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The entire project will receive nearly $18 million over five years to help Liberian universities rebuild their teaching capacity in agriculture and engineering. Approximately $600,000 will be associated with CALS.

Dr. David Jordan, Extension specialist in the CALS Crop Science Department, represented N.C. State University at a recent meeting of other partner institutions in Monrovia, Liberia. Research Triangle Institute is coordinating the EHELD effort. Other collaborators include the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Associates in Rural Development.  The team will also utilize regional universities such as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana as resources.

Other CALS faculty who will participate in the project are Dr. Rick Brandenburg and Dr. Clyde Sorenson, entomology; Drs. Charlotte Farin and Sung Woo Kim, animal science; Gary Bullen, agricultural and resource economics; Dr. Bir Thapa, crop science; and Dr. Jay Jayaratne, agricultural and extension education.

The program focuses on building local capacity at two Liberian partner institutions—Cuttington University and the University of Liberia. Cuttington, one of Africa’s oldest universities, provides much of Liberia’s formal education in agriculture.

Jordan said that N.C. State will help evaluate Cuttington’s agricultural curricula and provide faculty members there with the most up-to-date information for teaching agriculture. Liberian universities have limited resources, including textbooks, because of the cost, but Jordan said N.C. State also will look for classroom resources that could boost agricultural teaching. Those may include materials like PowerPoint presentations and other resources often taken for granted by U.S. universities.

“Our role is to review their curriculum, develop short-term training for educators, and provide students and faculty with educational resources,” Jordan said.  “USAID and other funding agencies have made considerable investments in primary and secondary education throughout Liberia.  The EHELD project will focus on the next step – higher education.”

The 15-year Liberian civil war interrupted education for most people. So many students in secondary schools, similar to U.S. high schools, are actually in their 20s and 30s.

Most faculty teaching agriculture in Liberia probably hold bachelor’s degrees, so another challenge is helping agricultural faculty to earn advanced degrees. Most will pursue degrees at other universities in Africa. But a few will come to study at N.C. State and other U.S. institutions, Jordan said.

The idea is to assist as Liberia creates centers of excellence for training in agriculture and engineering. The engineering component of the program will be fulfilled by the University of Michigan and Rutgers University.  N.C. State and Rutgers also will partner in the agriculture component of EHELD.

The ultimate goal is to help Liberia grow its agricultural industry, Jordan said. Agriculture has been perceived as hard work and therefore an undesirable occupation. The grant also seeks to encourage excitement about agriculture and to prepare students for opportunities in the agricultural sector as the economy and infrastructure in Liberia improves.  EHELD also will  focus on increasing involvement of women and girls in both agriculture and engineering fields.

“While Liberia continues to face serious challenges as it emerges from two decades of war, Liberians are ready for relief to give way to development,” said RTI’s Nathaniel Bowditch, the project’s director.  “EHELD is taking a step in that direction as we work to prepare a workforce ready for the next stages of growth in infrastructure building and agricultural productivity.”

— Natalie Hampton

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