Christabel Ngongola-Reinke, Mukwiti Mwiinga, Olipa Nyazambe Lungu, Chewe Nkonde, Satu Määttänen & Eija Laitinen
Agriculture plays an important role in sub-Saharan African (SSA) economic and social development (Sasson, 2012). Around half of the workforce in SSA is employed in the agricultural sector, which together with forestry and fishing contributes to around 20 per cent of the area’s gross domestic product (The World Bank Group, 2022). Yet, one-fifth of the population of SSA are undernourished (The World Bank Group, 2022), and Africa is the only continent where agricultural productivity has decreased per capita during the past 30 years (Sasson, 2012). With the population in SSA rapidly growing, it is clear that the agricultural sector needs to be improved and strengthened to enable well-being and sustainable development.
The need to develop the agricultural sector in SSA creates business and entrepreneurial opportunities. Business opportunities refer to profit-making, as entrepreneurial opportunities include additional elements, such as problem-solving for societies. To grasp and exploit opportunities, farmers need to identify them, use available resources innovatively and flexibly, be motivated and possess an entrepreneurial mindset (Matacena, 2019). Studies indicate that agro-entrepreneurship can improve food production, food security, economic growth and quality of life (Darmadji, 2016; Owoande, 2017). This article presents a framework, anchored in problem-based learning (PBL), that can be used to enhance and reinforce agro-entrepreneurship among farmers in SSA and elsewhere.
Problem-based learning approach in teaching and learning
Education and training should, in addition to knowledge provision, promote learners’ critical thinking and ability to understand real-life challenges and provide workable solutions. Conventional, top-down, lecture-based teaching systems struggle to develop these skills. PBL is a recommended teaching methodology to develop learners’ cognitive skills and entrepreneurial abilities (Easterly et al., 2017). PBL is a learner-centered system, in which students are involved in the learning process, and learning is driven by interaction, individual and team assignments and problem-solving (Condliffe et al., 2017). PBL has been applied in various disciplines (e.g. Charlton-Perez, 2013; Chiou, 2019; Salem et al., 2018).
Ribeiro (2011) summarizes the PBL process through the following steps (Figure 1):
- A problem is presented to students. In small teams, students define the problem, organize and evaluate ideas, and assess what knowledge they possess that can be used to solve the problem.
- Students discuss the problem and identify aspects requiring clarification and research, i.e., further knowledge acquisition.
- Students prioritize issues and actions, planning when, by whom, where, and how issues will be investigated.
- Students share and explore knowledge gathered and apply it to propose an informed solution to the problem. If a satisfactory solution cannot be reached, students may have to restart the PBL cycle.
- After reaching a solution, students assess themselves, their peers and the whole learning process.
Studies indicate that PBL improves learners’ in-depth understanding of basic principles and possible solutions to a given problem (Fatokun & Fatokun, 2013), communication, leadership and problem-solving skills (Tick, 2007), as well as confidence (Chiou, 2019).
Due to its various benefits, we suggest bringing PBL beyond educational institutions and student learners to farmers through extension services.
Incorporating problem-based learning in agricultural extension services
To contribute to agricultural development and overall food security in SSA, and to enable innovative and entrepreneurial farming approaches, farmers need to be exposed to extension services. Agricultural extension services are provided by both public and private actors that complement each other with different approaches. However, all extension services come with challenges. Farmers are different in many ways: they have different backgrounds, possess a varying degree of agricultural knowledge, and have widely varying needs and objectives (Burrows et al., 2017; Maulu et al., 2021). It is thus challenging to provide extension services with variable beneficiaries, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution (Maulu et al., 2021).
We believe that the PBL approach could contribute to overcoming above mentioned challenges. In the PBL approach, farmers will not be imposed on top-down determined solutions but will be guided to find their own solutions responding to their objectives. Utilizing the PBL approach could improve farmers’ competencies and entrepreneurial mindset, leading to improved productivity and food security. Agricultural extension presents a teacher–learner(s) positioning of the extension agent and the farmer, forming the basis for fostering the PBL approach. Thus, we propose utilizing PBL in agricultural extension services. To support the adoption of this approach, which is still novel in SSA, we have developed a framework that can be used as a tool by farmers and extension agents when transforming to and using the PBL approach.
Framework for agricultural extension
We propose a framework (Figure 2)—based on PBL principles and process—to be utilized in farmer-driven agricultural extension services. The main idea of the framework is to provide a step-by-step visual for farmers encouraging them to solve their challenges by considering their resources and needs. Moreover, it enables farmers to build a plan and a practical road map towards achieving their agricultural production goals with an entrepreneurial mindset.
With the guidance of extension services, a farmer must address the following questions:
- What problem(s) am I facing? What are the main causes or drivers of the problem? What are my main bottlenecks? (Problem formulation)
- What resources do I currently have? What additional resources, both physical and cognitive, would I need to solve the problem? E.g., entrepreneurial skills, technology adoption, mindset change, production resources, financial resources (Resource mapping)
- What could I do differently? (Proposing solution)
- What is the current situation and where would I like to be? (Forward planning)
The key to this PBL process is ownership: problems and solutions are identified by the farmers themselves and not projected upon them by external actors. The PBL process aims to develop farmers’ agricultural understanding and skills and build their confidence and autonomy in dealing with challenges and developing their production or business. The process builds upon critical thinking with constant review and subsequent modification if necessary. It is important that the farmer continuously iterates the roadmaps. Once the farmer has gone through the steps, (s)he has gained practical experience and direction to start the cycle again. The iteration aims to promote life-long learning, encouraging self-initiated and continuous personal and farming practice development. Along each step of the way, extension agents will act as guides and facilitators, assisting and prompting farmers to find relevant information to understand their production environment and find solutions to their challenges. Extension agents do not provide ready solutions, but the full responsibility of learning and activities rests on the farmer.
Traditionally, teamwork forms a core part of the PBL methodology. Within extension services, forming teams may not be possible due to geographic distance and societal settings. Additional support and teamwork spirit can be provided for farmers through household members, farmers’ groups or cooperatives. The usage of PBL in extension services should not, however, be limited to established groups, as not all farmers have access to them, and this would limit the number of beneficiaries.
Based on previous literature, we believe that utilizing the PBL approach in agricultural extension can encourage agro-entrepreneurship and improve agricultural productivity, thus contributing to the ultimate goal of improved livelihoods, food security and well-being. In this article, we proposed a framework, anchored in the PBL approach, to be utilized in agricultural extension services, to encourage and enable farmers to solve their production challenges and achieve their goals with an entrepreneurial mindset. The framework aims to promote lifelong learning through an iterative PBL cycle with robust follow-through processes, and it can be applied in a variety of different contexts.
This article has been written as part of a professional Problem-Based Learning Training Programme for East and Southern African university teachers. The training programme was organized as part of AgriSCALE project (https://www.agriscale.net/) activities during 2021. AgriSCALE is an EU-funded project coordinated by Häme University of Applied Sciences (FIN), that aims to reform agricultural education and curricula in East and Southern African universities. Project partners include nine universities from East and Southern Africa and Europe.
Christabel Ngongola-Reinke, Department of Economics, Mulungushi University.
Mukwiti Mwiinga, School of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Zambia.
Olipa Nyazambe Lungu, Department of Soil Science, University of Zambia.
Chewe Nkonde, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Zambia.
Satu Määttänen, M.Sc. in Arg. & For. and M.Sc. in Biol & Env. Sci. Research Assistant in Häme University of Applied Sciences at Bio Research Unit.
Eija Laitinen, PhD in Adult Education, Principal Research Scientist in HAMK Bio Research Unit AgriSCALE and PBL-BioAfrica Project Coordinator and leader of the HAMK Africa Team.
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