Impressions from the Intersections of Policy and Practice Symposium by Dami Alegbeleye

Those in the Agricultural Education and Training (AET) field know how burdensome policies can be when carrying out developmental projects. With rigid policies that delineate what an acceptable outcome should be, and with funding on the line, practitioners are sometimes faced with the difficulty of fitting their human and institutional capacity development projects and stories into an ill-fitting indicator box.  On June 7-9, InnovATE convened a Symposium titled: “The Intersection of Policy and Practice to Strengthen Agricultural Education and Training Systems” at Gallaudet University in Washington DC. I attended this symposium with great expectations, and it did not fail to deliver. This symposium focused on youth development, cross-sector collaboration, gender, and private sector engagement.

The first thing that caught my attention was the diverse background of the attendees. Many continents such as Asia, Africa, South-America, and North America were represented. Personally, I had the opportunity of meeting people from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Armenia, and Costa Rica. More importantly, what stood out to me was the KIND of participants that were gathered in the heart of the nation’s capital to discuss the intersection of policy and practice in AET. The policy makers from USAID and the practitioners from various NGOs, government agencies, and private consultants in the field of AET were in attendance. Having in a room these two main actors (policy makers and practitioners) in the field of AET is no small feat. As a PhD student, I have had the privilege of attending many symposia and conferences, and more often than not, you do not have these two main actors together in the same room.

Pre-Symposium Workshop

The event started on June 7 with a pre-symposium workshop. The workshop was tagged: “HICD Storytelling: From Design to Evaluation and Back Again.” Workshop participants were divided into various groups to discuss the challenges of telling their HICD story through indicators, and then make recommendations for appropriate indicators. Several groups identified rigid indicators set up by the policy makers as a major challenge in effectively and accurately telling the success stories of their various developmental projects. Fortunately, USAID staff were on hand to participate in the discussion and take notes.

Day 1

The opening day of the full symposium featured two plenary sessions and ten concurrent sessions. The morning plenary session, tagged: “Agricultural Innovations Systems: Not Business as Usual” was a panel discussion moderated by Charles Maguire, AET consultant. The moderator together with the panelists discussed the importance of the interconnectedness of the various actors that are involved in agricultural innovation in AET, and ways to achieve a community of practice. This was particularly important considering the fact that too many actors in AET tend to work in isolation, thereby leading to duplication of effort.

The theme of the afternoon plenary session was “Are we moving forward? Gender Transformation and AET” moderated by Becky Williams of the University of Florida. I found this session particularly interesting because of the diverse perspectives the panelists brought into it. One of the panelists, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), discussed how the marginalization of women has negatively affected all of us (both men and women). This is especially true for most African countries, where the main occupation is agriculture, and a large percentage of those involved in agriculture is women. In these countries, many women do not have access to the AET that their male counterparts have access to, thereby making the countries less productive.

Deborah Rubin, Cultural Practice, LLC; Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenburg, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development; and Gretchen Neisler, Center for Global Connections in Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, Michigan State University (left to right) speak during the Gender Transformation and AET Plenary session.

Day 2

The second full day featured two plenary sessions and seven concurrent sessions. The morning plenary session titled: “Co-Creating Agricultural Education and Training Systems for Youth Development” was moderated by Glen Shinn of Global Consulting Solutions and Texas A & M University. Again, I enjoyed this discussion because of the rich and diverse perspectives of the panelists. One of the panelists, Miles Sedgwick of Rana Labs and AgriJoven project, shared his experience of working with youths in Guatemala. In his project, he organized video production workshops that trained Guatemalan youths on how to use videos to capture their use of innovation in farming. Since it is easier for Guatemalan youths to influence each other, rather than a foreigner (in this case Miles), the project taught them to make their own videos, and share them on social media. He explained how video production can be a tool for agricultural extension.

To cap off the symposium, Michael Woolcock of the World Bank and Harvard Kennedy School, discussed the need for using Problem-Driven Iterative Adaption (PDIA) as a different strategy for building state capability in education. Adopting the principles of PDIA which include: using local solutions for local problems, while learning from and adapting to the local community, will go a long way in improving policy and practice of AET.


Ibukun “Dami” Alegbeleye is a doctoral student at Virginia Tech in agricultural, leadership, and community education. He is a research assistant for the USAID-funded Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project.