Cultivating Knowledge in South Sudan

By: Samantha Alvis

Faculty and students from the ALEC department are helping to cultivate agricultural education knowledge in the world’s newest country.

South Sudan became an independent country just over a year ago, July 9, 2011.  South Sudan has little infrastructure-only 70 km of roads in a country slightly smaller than Texas.  Subsistence agriculture makes up the livelihood of 86 percent of the country, and 84 percent of the population over the age of 15 is illiterate.  Agriculture and education are critical to future development.

Through a USAID funded project, the Borlaug Institute, along with partners Texas A&M University and Iowa State University, are working to develop institutional capacity to provide teaching, research and extension services at Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology in Jonglei State.

In November 2011, ALEC graduate student Kevin Fath joined one of the first teams at JG-MUST.  Fath conducted a preliminary needs assessment on the curriculum, establishing positive relationships with JG-MUST faculty members and resetting expectations for modifications that are needed in their current agricultural curriculum and faculty capacity.

“Successful development begins by establishing trust and positive relationships and by understanding the need and priorities as perceived by local leaders,” says Glen Shinn, Ph.D., ALEC professor and a member of the South Sudan project team, “Fath was successful in establishing this base.”

Shinn, ALEC professor and Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture Senior Scientist has visited South Sudan twice in the past 6 months, working with JG-MUST faculty on curriculum development and teaching capacity.

Due to a shortage of qualified instructors in country, Shinn is currently working with JG-MUST faculty members to development online animal science curriculum.  Goats and cattle are common livestock in South Sudan.  Goats are the more common food animal, while cattle are seen more as collateral property, more frequently used for a  dowry than for a meal.  The curriculum Shinn and his team are working on will work to increase production and encourage healthy management practices.

Shinn says that the needs at JG-MUST extend far beyond curriculum and faculty development.  The Borlaug institute has installed 10 new computers; however, electricity is limited and often shuts off at lunch and may not come back on during the day.  Student dorms are not the accommodations that most American university students would expect, instead, JG-MUST students sleep in tents with dirt floors.  The project is spending more funds than expected to build infrastructure needed in order to provide the base for future projects.

Despite these challenges, Shinn says that the outlook of JG-MUST students is positive and they are excited about the opportunities that education will afford them in the world’s newest country.

Shinn says that the needs at JG-MUST are teacher education and methodology, youth development and leadership, as well as course development and general vocational training. These needs are natural fits for ALEC students who may be interested in working in the world’s newest country.

For insight on Kevin Fath’s time in South Sudan, visit his blog at: http://kevinfath.tumblr.com

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