UoE-OISC implements A Transdisciplinary Field Course for students and practitioners of Agroecology on the AfriSASS-African Roads to sustainable agro-ecology-hot topics and targeted solutions Project

One of the biggest challenges in universities of Sub-Sahara African region is inadequate facilities that would bolster effective hands on training. In our institutions, training is usually limited in terms of practical skills owing to the inadequate infrastructure and hence precludes the development of critical thinking which should constitute the foundation of new knowledge, innovations and technologies that are needed to design pathways towards agricultural intensification and sustainable development. Constrained by a considerable workload due to an unfavourable teacher/student ratio, little energy remains to invent creative solutions to handle this problem. We believe Intra-University collaboration both from North-South and South-South interactions re-ignites efforts to develop fine-tuned, hands-on and research based curricula where staff and students learn from the exchange. In such a collaboration staff and students of the North benefit from local interactions and are exposed to tropical agroecosystems in their learning while our Kenyan students benefit from exposure to expertise and build networks that could be instrumental in shaping their careers.

This has been our motivation for the implementation of a series of field courses for our Msc students in the last seven years. In these courses, we emphasize the importance of (1) multidisciplinarity, (2) multicultural interactions and (3) hands-on training that involves working with farming communities as innovative ways in bridging this resource gap. The AfriSASS- African roads to sustainable agroecology – hot topics and targeted solutions- Project is based on the same principle but targets students at a higher level; those in the PhD training and/or those in their second year of training at MSc Level. In this respect, the Outreach and International Students’ Centre (UoE-OISC) in collaboration with CIRAD-AIDA, France, ETH Zürich, Switzerland, Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PE&ER)- Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in Netherlands implemented a two-week (10th to 22nd July 2022) transdisciplinary summer course targeting a diverse group of participants from within and beyond sub-Saharan Africa including extension staff, Phd and Msc students and offering them a wide range of inspiring experts and study cases in agroecology. The course through the AfriSASS Project was funded by the Agropolis Foundation, PE&ER, Biovision Africa Trust and the World Food System Centre in ETH. During the course, students work in teams (teams of 7 students); analyse agricultural systems both at the farm and landscape level to establish the integration of the ten elements of agroecology in relation to increasing the resilience of farming communities (in this case, Elgeyo Marakwet County) to the effects of climate change. They also identify key constraints for sustainable rural development in the context of climate change. We build on an existing project ‘Research-based education for sustainable rural development’ that is similarly implemented at the OISC between KU Leuven, Belgium, ETH, Zurich, Switzerland and Arba Minch University, Ethiopia. UoE was represented by three staff-Dr. Abigael Otinga, Dr. Ruth Noroge and Dr. Florence Wamunga. Students were drawn from UoE represented by Schools of Agriculture and Biotechnology, Science, Environmental Sciences and Business and Management Studies, University of Embu, University of Nairobi, RVTTI, Makerere University, WUR-Netherlands, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, University of Armsterdam and University of Leiden.

Our area of study this year was Elgeyo Marakwet with a focus on North Keiyo and South Keiyo sub counties. Students were exposed to the different farming systems with the following specific objectives (i) Have an in-depth understanding of the FAO’s ten Elements of Agroecology and their interactions (ii) Gain hands-on experience with transdisciplinary (research for development) projects and (iii) Assess the AE challenges and opportunities within the biophysical and socio-economic context in Elgeyo Marakwet County. Students had an opportunity to visit the field, interact with the local communities as well as the respective area extension officers and re-imagine the community when transitioned to sustainable agroecosystems. Recommendations were drawn from the data collected as well as the interactions of the different stakeholders with students and this was shared at the end of the course. We believe that this course contributes to the University’s strategic objectives in terms of enhanced quality of teaching and learning and research and strengthened resource mobilization and utilization.

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