Unraveling Critical Factors for a Responsive University-Farming Community Engagement in Uganda: Insights from Two Outreach Projects at the School of Agricultural Sciences, Makerere University
Opolot, Henry Nakelet
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Universities are criticized for focusing on academic and research roles with minimal impact on communities. In attempt to be more responsive for impact, the School of Agricultural Sciences (SAS), Makerere University piloted two outreach projects as cases that would provide useful lessons in developing a framework for enhancing responsiveness and impact of universities in agricultural development. However, there was limited empirical evidence on what is working well and the challenges of the two projects to inform development, improvement and up-scaling of a responsive engagement framework. The main objective of this study was to analyze critical factors in establishment of a more responsive university-farming community engagement. Specifically, the study; examined the application of participatory teaching methods; analyzed the knowledge and skills acquired by students through field attachment; examined farmers’ perception of the quality of information and dissemination channels used by university students during engagement and; examined farmers’ utilization of knowledge and skills from the training offered to them by the university students. A mixed methods research design was used to collect data at the SAS and northern Uganda districts of Kole and Lira. Data were collected through individual interviews with 20 lecturers, 122 undergraduate students, review of 432 field attachment reports, 184 semi-structured interviews and four focus group discussions with farmers. Thematic content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data collected through FGDs. Descriptive statistics including means, percentages and standard deviations were used to characterize the farmers based on socio-economic and institutional factors. The multivariate probit (MVP) was used to assess the factors influencing farmer’s choice of information channels. A binary logit model was used to determine the factors influencing the uptake of training outcomes by farmers. Results showed low application of participatory teaching methods with dominance of the traditional lecture method. Students perceived field attachment as beneficial but inadequate supervision, duration, places of attachment and timing negatively affected the level of practical skills acquired. Information disseminated to farmers was relevant but its untimely delivery reduced utilization. Farmers’ choice of information channel was significantly influenced by age, education level, land size, farmer information needs membership and distance to the nearest trading center. Through training, farmers’ agricultural knowledge and skills as well as group development were improved. Utilization of knowledge and skills from the training was influenced by farmers’ marital status, education level, on-farm income and distance to the nearest trading center. The study concludes that integration of participatory teaching methods, effectiveness of field attachment, quality and timely dissemination of information and, building farmers’ agricultural capacity are critical factors for strengthening university-farming community engagement. To enhance responsiveness of University-processes to farming community needs, the study recommends that participatory teaching methods be emphasized to improve the quality of teaching; duration of field attachment be increased to at least a full semester; use of ICT technologies be integrated to improve timeliness of information dissemination and; farmer training be made an integral part of University outreach activities. Lastly, the study proposes a full year post graduation apprenticeship be introduced for practical and professional skills acquisition in the field of agricultural sciences.