The World Bank is investing heavily in farming extension education in universities across sub-Saharan Africa to break the link between poor agricultural practices and chronic food shortages.
Ghana's University of Cape Coast, Alemaya University of Agriculture in Ethiopia and Uganda's Makerere University are running World Bank-funded BSc agricultural extension courses. There are plans for similar courses at Egerton University in Kenya and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.
Jacob Kampen, principal agricultural researcher at the Bank's African technical department, said that agricultural colleges in many countries have little capacity to prepare, retain or offer continuing education in agriculture. Communication between farmers and agricultural extensionists and researchers was also poor.
"Even premier universities such as the universities of Makerere, Ghana, Legon, Ibadan and Nairobi are not equipping their graduates with the knowledge and practical skills needed in farming," Dr Kampen said.
Robert Evenson, an agricultural extension specialist from Yale University, said: "Graduates in agricultural sciences from African universities lack practical skills in situational analysis, problem diagnosis and problem solving techniques, making them unattractive to employers and farmers alike."
He said that rather than improve existing programmes, universities that never offered agriculture have started running BSc courses, sometimes without adequate facilities. In Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere, junior colleges offering agricultural diploma and certificate courses have been upgraded to universities despite no data indicating demand for BSc holders.
The new extension degree will offer diploma-holders a year of intensive coursework and nine months in the field in supervised enterprises or on projects.
There are plans to run short postgraduate certificate courses for agriculturalists.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have organised the courses in selected universities across sub-Saharan Africa. Several colleges in Ghana, Uganda, Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire have also been rehabilitated through national extension projects.