To improve access to valuable skills for the development of the agricultural sector of Liberia, the United States Agency for International Development/Food and Enterprise Development program (USAID/FED) in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MoE), has developed the first market-based, regional integrated vocational training program in agriculture.
According to the communication specialist for USAID/FED, Nico Parkinson, the agricultural program “the National Diploma for Agriculture (NDA)” will go into effect in September of this year at four USAID FED-supported Centers of Agriculture located at the Nimba, Lofa and Grand Bassa County Community Colleges and at the Booker T. Washington Institute (BWI).
Mr. Parkinson said that the NDA is an innovative, skills-focused two-year vocational diploma that prepares high school graduates to move directly into agricultural employment in the formal sector or through entrepreneurship.
“Students would graduate with in-demand marketable skills giving them expanded employment options tied to the country’s growing agricultural market and industry needs. USAID/FED’s Centers of Excellence in Agriculture will lead the practical training program through demonstration farms, extension services and showcasing of best practices and innovations in agri-business,” he disclosed.
The new diploma is the country’s first of its kind fully-approved by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) curriculum and represents an important step towards regional integration.
USAID/FED and MoE used Nigeria’s vocational agriculture curriculum as a foundation; adapting it to the Liberian context, market demands and needs of Liberia’s youth. In addition to core courses like Crop Cultivation, Irrigation, Soil Science and Animal Husbandry, the Liberian diploma program includes essential knowledge and skills-building in key areas of Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Communications.
The MoE’s Director of Technical Vocational Education and Training, Saku Dukuly, has described the new agriculture program as ‘significant.’
“The agriculture diploma is perhaps most important for Liberia’s workforce. It will be a valuable part of the process to equip Liberian farmers with practical skills to support the growing agricultural sector and to improve long term sustainable farming,” he said.
For her part, the chief of party of USAID/FED, Agnes Luz, said, “These skills are critical to the needs of a post-conflict Liberia in the process of rebuilding its agricultural markets and connecting them to the region. The NDA will improve overall capacity of future farmers. Liberian youth will also acquire skills, such as record keeping and financial management, needed to create a business.”
Madam Luz added that the skills play a key role in addressing not only the immediate employment needs of graduates, but also the development and growth of the agricultural and food production sectors of the country.
Over the last two years, the two institutions have held a series of technical workshops to review and shape the agriculture diploma. Education and agriculture stakeholders, as well as Liberia’s largest agricultural employers, helped define the skills that are most needed by agribusinesses in Liberia.
Curriculum piloting is underway at the Nimba County Community College where students are testing a total of eight courses including Agri-Business and Soil Fertility & Crop Nutrition. After the two-year program is rolled out at the Centers of Excellence, lessons learned and best practices will be consolidated to guide the expansion of the curriculum to four more vocational training centers in Liberia under the MOE in 2016.
The USAID FED Program for Liberia aims to reduce hunger and promote food security for Liberians by increasing agricultural productivity and profitability across food based value chains, stimulating enterprise development and building the agriculture workforce. The program is implemented in six counties: Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado.
USAID FED is Africa’s largest project under President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative, which promotes a move away from subsistence and increasing food security by working with public and private bodies, including the Government of Liberia, the private sector, local NGOs and other key stakeholders.
The United States—Liberia’s largest donor and closest ally—supports the nation’s priorities to build sustainable, local capacity and make a difference in people’s lives by moving towards a shared vision of self-sufficiency and prosperity.