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People for Agriculture: Taking the Long View
By Anne-Claire Hervy, Associate Vice President for International Development and Programs, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)
Over the last several years, my organization, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), has been focusing on the issue of human and institutional capacity building in developing countries, with a particular focus on Africa and an emphasis on the agricultural sector. In February, we published two reports related to human and institutional capacity strengthening. The first is focused on African higher education, looking at the challenges faced on the continent with recommendations for future investment. The second, is focused on long-term training in agriculture and how best to leverage individual training for institutional development.
I want to highlight three key points from these reports.
- While the United States certainly has a great deal to offer in terms of knowledge and innovations to help solve challenging development problems, without local human and institutional capacity in developing countries to adapt, adopt and transfer knowledge and innovations, Western technology and knowledge will not have the development impact we might hope. It has been shown that it takes about the same development of economic and technical skills to become an efficient borrower of technology as it does to develop new technology. Therefore, higher education is critical not only to developing countries producing new technology, but also to adapting technology from other places effectively. In our efforts to share the knowledge and innovations that come out of US universities with the rest of the world, it is also important to focus on building higher education capacity in developing countries to generate the human capital in those countries to interact with and capitalize on global knowledge flows.
- Institutional capacity strengthening has been a goal of development assistance from when it began after World War II. In this time, we’ve seen real changes to how institutional capacity strengthening is conceived and implemented. Initially, there was a fairly intense focus on major institution-building efforts with significant investments made in individual institutions. Today, we tend to see a much more scattered approach, with a heavy emphasis on individual training (often short-term) at the expense of deeper institution-building efforts that require a longer-term time frame and less numerically “measurable” results in the short term. Furthermore, long-term training is also often too narrowly focused on technical skills, when trainees also need to become armed with skills and knowledge about how to change their institutions upon completion of their training.
- Reforming institutions and strengthening institutional capacity is one of the most difficult tasks in development. It is one thing to build a road, a school, or a hospital; but to get human beings “to use the physical stuff available to produce the flows of improved services (learning in schools, water to farmers, cures for patients) that lead to desirable outcomes for citizens has proven much more difficult.” Although it may be difficult, it is possible, to create the right conditions and incentives to build institutional capacity with external assistance. To do so, though, requires some careful thought and attention to how external assistance is provided.
APLU’s Knowledge Center on Higher Education for African Development will continue to produce research on these topics and occasionally hosts public events for discussions with policy makers. We’ll be sure to share announcements about future events and publications with the Global Harvest Initiative for anyone who is interested in staying in the loop.
Anne-Claire Hervy is the associate vice president for international development and programs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). She is the co-author of African Higher Education: Opportunities for Transformative Change for Sustainable Development and Good Practices in Leveraging Long-term Training for Institutional Capacity Strengthening.
Read Dr. Zeigler’s post from the APLU annual meeting in Washington, D.C., NIFA and the U.S. Land Grant System: A Model of Support for Developing Country Research & Extension Systems.
 Evenson, R.E. (1977). “Cycles in Research Productivity in Sugarcane, Wheat and Rice,” cited in Eicher, C. K. (2009). Building African Scientific Capacity in Food and Agriculture. Review of Business and Economics. Vol LIV.3 July-September 2009: 238-257.
 Andrews, Matt; Pritchett, Lant; and Woolcock, Michael. Escaping Capability Traps through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), Center for International Development at Harvard University. Working Paper No. 240, June 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/file/240