For thousands of years, agriculture has been the dominant way of life for the majority of the world’s population. Human society is undergoing major changes and very quickly. Within the past decade, for the first time in human history more people are living in urban settings compared to rural areas, placing a greater need for commercialized food production. Together with population growth, higher living standards, increased demand for agricultural production, global water stress and climate change, there is an ever-increasing requirement for an agricultural transformation in countries throughout Africa to ensure food and nutritional security.
This transformation requires adaptation of expertise, technologies, access to finance, access to agricultural inputs and changes in the market structure of the agricultural sector. The transformation must also be accompanied by a human component, where a new generation of local agronomists, engineers and experts must take on the role of enabling an innovative agricultural sector. There is a need for passionate, knowledgeable local professionals to build knowledge and develop solutions to challenges faced by farmers and to the sector at large. Young professional, agricultural entrepreneurs, need to commercialize the sector, ensuring farmers are profiting and developing successful businesses throughout the value chain. The notion of working in agriculture must be transformed from that of a low-skilled job to that of skilled professionals, the building blocks of a successful innovative agricultural economy.
To optimize this transformation, it is imperative that Israel’s innovative and advanced expertise, technology and ‘know-how’ be implemented, shared and taught to build the ‘agricultural knowledge infrastructure’ and to ensure self-sustainability.
The AITEC model
The Agricultural Innovation and Technology Centers operate as the central mechanism for agricultural development. The AITEC is composed of several components that are integrated into a holistic program for regional transformation.
The Training, Demonstration and Research (TDR) site is a ~1 hectare plot equipped with drip irrigation, sprinklers, greenhouses, and advanced agro-techniques to facilitate the development of the regional agricultural knowledge infrastructure. The TDR site provides training programs for farmers, professionals, extension agents and students. The site demonstrates different crops, inputs, techniques and innovations as a method of introducing them to the region.
The ATIEC Farm is a market oriented commercial farm that aims to generate the highest potential profitability while producing nutritious crops. The farm’s subcomponents include vegetable and fruit production, protected agriculture, a seedling nursery and post-harvest collection. Livestock units are also implemented through the Farm. The farm’s revenues are utilized for supporting the operational, educational and logistical activities of the AITEC. The farm serves as a model medium scale farms, demonstrating proper planning and introducing new technologies and agro-techniques. Through proper crop rotation and multi-year planning, the farm strives for year-round production.
The AITEC Training curriculum
is built as an integrated curriculum focused on 4 main pillars:
- Basic and applied Science education
- Specific agricultural topics will be a focus of the program to introduce students to both practical and technological advanced systems.
- Learning by doing through on-site field activities at the TDR site.
- Agricultural business and entrepreneurial skills.
ATIEC Extension Services provide outreach to farmers in the region. Through well trained extension agents, farmers are provide access to professional support who monitor farmer’s fields and provide recommendations for improvement in quality and quantity of production. The Extension services model promotes a integrated watershed management strategy for agricultural development.
AITEC Logistical Hub promotes market linkages for value chain development. The hub serves facilitate connections, collaboration and partnerships between local and international stakeholders. The hub will serve to ensure market access to agricultural inputs and technologies while simultaneously promoting post-harvest processing and export of local production.