Collective Action on Transforming Higher Education in Agriculture
A Collective Action (CA) facilitated by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR/GFAiR) is a multi-stakeholder programme of work implemented at local, national, regional or international levels. It can be initiated by three or more partners and based on the priorities of GFAR Partners, always including producers, with a particular focus on women and youth. Projects are designed through consultative multistakeholder processes of GFAR and delivered by constituent partners.
Partners agree to commit and generate resources together, and to catalyze actions or advocacy towards shared, demand-driven development objectives. These actions are fostered and supported by the GFAR Secretariat.
GFAR Collective Actions are based on the following eight partnership principles:
- ensuring equity in cooperation and shared ownership from the beginning;
- transparent communication and exchange of knowledge;
- effective negotiation and sharing of responsibilities;
- promoting mutual learning;
- enhancing collective research capacities;
- sharing benefits and merits in an equitable manner;
- disseminating results broadly in forms that encourage and allow application; and
- seeking sustainability of the processes and outcomes.
All partnerships contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific objectives determined in a participatory manner by all key actors, including the end-users.
Transformational learning is the process of deep, constructive, and meaningful learning that goes beyond knowledge acquisition and supports critical ways in which learners consciously make meaning of their lives. It is the kind of learning that results in a fundamental change in our worldview as a consequence of shifting from unquestioning acceptance of available information to reflective and conscious learning experiences that bring about true emancipation.
Transformational learning in higher education, as defined by the partners of the Collective Action on Transforming Higher Education in Agriculture, refers to the integration of innovative pedagogical approaches by universities. This includes:
- mainstreaming experiential learning;
- using interactive learning apps;
- systematic focus on student-centered learning;
- implementing a revised curriculum that matches the dynamic and complex realities of the current agrifood systems environment based on critical thinking;
- systematic engagement with communities, farmers and small-scale producers;
- systematic integration of ethics in management and leadership courses;
- making available student loans for the execution of their student business plans; and
- systematic integration of business education and entrepreneurship.
The enabling environment for the systematic integration of transformative learning approaches in agriculture and life science universities is critical in order to foster change. It should consider, for example:
- policy focus on the enhancement of innovation capacities along with technical capacities (e.g. through the facilitation of links with the private sector, collaboration among different national actors, and smarter funding programmes);
- national strategies and policies focused on the development of “enablers” (e.g. through digital technologies, lifelong learning, interaction between industry, academia, society and government, and the creation of entrepreneurs; and inclusion of higher education as one of the priorities in national innovation strategies and policies.
 Simsek, A. (2012). Transformational Learning. In: Seel, N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_373
Co-research and co-innovation are new approaches that combine farmers’ insights, perspectives, and experiences of various innovation actors, including farmers and their organizations, communities, and non-governmental organizations, with formal research built on the principles of partnership, collaboration, and productive exchanges between equally valid knowledge systems.
Co-research implies ensuring that the knowledge of different stakeholders and their world views, values, concerns, perspectives, and interests are taken into account at all stages of the innovation process. That is, from the definition of the research problem, priorities, and research questions to the choice of the methodology, (co)validation of the results, and their dissemination.
Co-research and co-innovation in the context of transforming higher education in agriculture, therefore, refers to a collaborative endeavour of universities and other innovation actors, including rural communities, civil society, government, industry, and international agencies, that places farmers and their communities at the center, co-developing knowledge and solutions to the real problems they face.
Global transformation of agricultural university education and learning systems to graduate ethical leaders and agents of systemic change with the capacities to proactively respond to the challenges of an ever more complex and dynamic agri-food system that positively impacts family farmers and rural communities – including the development of soft skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, an entrepreneurial mindset as well as the relevant technical skills.
- Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR)
- Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI)
- European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development (EFARD)
- Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA)
- Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS)
- Promoting local innovation in ecologically oriented agriculture and natural resource management (Prolinnova)
- Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)
About the Collective Action
The Collective Action on Transforming Higher Education in Agriculture was formally launched on 14 September 2023. It aims to promote and accelerate the transformation of higher educational models of learning to improve the technical and practical skills and effectiveness of agricultural professionals to increase their employability, agricultural entrepreneurship, innovation, and ethical leadership within agricultural innovation systems. This is envisioned to ultimately contribute to ensuring sustainable agri-food systems transformation and improved livelihoods of small-scale producers, rural communities, and their organizations.
The first stage of the Collective Action aims to:
- assess the status of transformation of agricultural higher education through a stocktaking exercise;
- identify and document successful innovative models of education based on experiential learning, ethical leadership and participatory curricula development that are being systematically integrated in education systems;
- facilitate knowledge sharing and engagement with key stakeholders around the key knowledge outputs and learning to build a common understanding on the process of transformational learning, and create ownership and support;
- galvanize commitment that will support future co-design and scaling up of good educational models and practices.
The Collective Action will initially focus on four regions – Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America. It is envisioned to inspire and guide enabling, structural, functional, and socio-cultural changes that are needed to facilitate the global transformation of agricultural university education and learning systems in order to proactively respond to the challenges of an ever more complex and dynamic agri-food system that positively impacts family farmers, small-scale producers and rural communities.
The focus is on the need to equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that would enable them to grow into qualified graduates with the professional, entrepreneurial, ethical and social capacities needed to engage effectively in the collaborative management of innovation with farmers, rural communities and other stakeholders in agriculture.
The Collective Action seeks to involve and respond to the challenges faced by the following innovation actors:
- Agricultural and life science universities
- Leaders (University Vice-Chancellors, University Presidents, Deans, faculties, professional bodies, student union leaders, Ministries of Education/Agriculture, and accreditation agencies)
- Ultimately, university graduates, small-scale farmers and producers within agri-food systems.
In addition, it involves key stakeholders, including students and their families, university leadership and faculty, business partners, National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and other agricultural research communities, farmers’ organizations, regional and international organizations, as well as civil society organizations (CSOs) and other development partners and professional bodies involved in transformative education and learning related to agriculture.