Agricultural educationNepal is a farm country, and graduates and experts are vital to achieving prosperity.
Agricultural education has been getting more media coverage in recent years, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons. The latest incident involves a professor being manhandled by his students at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Rampur. In these situations, the losers are the students, but it also affects the morale of the faculty and non-teaching staff. The incident is also a symptom of the deteriorating quality of agricultural education in the country.
Agricultural education is going through rapid expansion, but the focus has been on numbers and not quality. In the first three decades of agricultural education in Nepal at the undergraduate level, only three public colleges were established under Tribhuvan University. In the last nine years, 13 colleges were established. Currently, 20 colleges offer BSc in Agriculture, BSc in Horticulture and BSc in Tea Science programmes with an annual intake of just over 1,100 students. The number of colleges may increase significantly if appropriate guidelines are not put in place.
The country produces many agriculture graduates annually, and they seem to have been absorbed so far. A good number of them, around 50 percent, go overseas for higher studies, others get absorbed in international non-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, government service and the private sector. In 2018, about 20 young graduates and postgraduates were hired by a single private country. Floriculture in Nepal is largely private sector driven, and it is having a difficult time finding skilled graduates. The vegetable sector is also witnessing rapid commercialisation, especially on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, adjoining districts of Kathmandu and peri-urban areas of many major towns.
Interestingly, very few agriculture graduates become technical consultants or set up agriculture enterprises. They are either not interested or not fully confident to start private enterprises. The large number of people who are involved in commercialisation of flowers or vegetables, and very recently in fruits, mostly do not have prior experience in modern agriculture. A few exceptions are those who did internship or worked in farms in Israel, Malaysia and other countries. These are areas of opportunities for young graduates if they are highly skilled and want to face the challenge of agriculture commercialisation. The problem is loud and clear: Our
graduate students are not getting adequate training.
At the same time, the race to establish agriculture colleges is in full speed, but the very essence of a good education centre has been ignored. Universities should set up guidelines for any college, public or private. Some universities do have guidelines, but they are not implementing them. Many constituent colleges are following the bare minimum of the guidelines their own university has established, and the situation in some affiliate colleges is even worse. The major discourse should be on implementing the guidelines with a focus on the following aspects.
Are the courses up to the mark to generate not only strong technologists but also innovators, who would lead the industry? Is there adequate infrastructure such as classrooms, auditorium, administration, modern library, laboratories, hostels, staff quarters, medical centres, recreation centres, farm equipment and transportation services? Are there adequate and well developed lands with irrigation facilities for cereals, fruits, vegetables and flowers? Are there adequate and well developed animal farms, bird farms and fish ponds? Are there adequate and qualified members across various departments of the faculty, technical and non-technical support staff and general staff? Is research and extension prioritised in the colleges? Are students getting enough exposure to farming systems and farming businesses?
The current training is making our graduates more theory-based due to lack of practical exposure. The situation is similar at both public (older colleges with better lab and farm facilities) and new colleges (both private and public). The colleges should be able to provide opportunities to students to learn the entire practical curriculum. To achieve this, they need to have the necessary infrastructure—proper laboratories, farms and qualified and skilled human resources.
A large number of graduates may have problems getting jobs in the near future because there will be only around 100 government job openings annually for the next few years. The private sector could be the new employment generator and a major employer in the next five to 10 years; but it would need highly trained human resources. The current university system doesn’t cater to this need, and this could be one factor that impedes agriculture commercialisation in the country. We lack highly trained human resources but the agriculture sector is in dire need of skilled human resources. Where is the mismatch?
Answering this question smartly is not only important for producing highly trained agriculturists but also for driving agriculture commercialisation in the country. Nepal is a country of farmers, and the role of skilled and motivated agriculture graduates and specialists is integral to achieving prosperity.
Pun holds a PhD in agriculture and is a central committee member of the Sajha Bibeksheel Party.