EXPO-2020: Agrarian Education as an Investment in the Future

The “Agrarian Education — Investment in the Future” round table was held on February 15 at the World Exhibition “EXPO-2020” in Dubai within the framework of the Russian Agro-Industrial week, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia and the Agroexport Federal Center. The heads of leading Russian and foreign agricultural educational institutions shared their experience on creating modern educational systems, attracting young people to the industry and staff development. They also named competencies which, in their opinion, will be in demand in the future.

The round table was moderated by Andrei Barkin, an independent expert on the Middle East, and Ex-Director of Strategy and State Policy of Knowledge and Human Development Authority of Dubai.

According to the International Labour Organization, 1.1 billion people work in global agriculture with 62% of the population to the South of Sahara and 46% in South Asia engaged in agricultural production, as Dmitry Krasnov, the Head of the Agroexport, pointed out. “So, we are talking about a very large layer of population and resources that are directly related to this industry”, — he said.

At the same time, today’s agriculture is turning into a high-tech industry that requires a high level of qualifications. The complexity of the global trade system and the ESG agenda are some of the other factors that will influence labour requirements of the agro-industrial complex in the medium term. “Modern agrarian companies understand that it is impossible to create value without considering an ecological factor, bad management of the enterprise or failing to measure the impact of its activities on the social sphere. The young generation already live by these principles, but it is very important how we teach them, what knowledge we give them and whether it is complex”, — Krasnov noted.

Under these conditions, agricultural education should become more flexible, more practice-oriented, based on fresh data and relevant information. “The Agroexport creates a system of knowledge and competences for specialists of foreign economic activity, and our analytical products are actively used by Russian agricultural companies. In order to ensure that this knowledge does not only remain with agricultural exporters, but becomes part of the educational process, we, together with MGIMO, are creating the Institute of Global Agrarian Markets as a center for training modern personnel and conducting applied scientific research”, — Krasnov announced.

“Personnel training in the Agro-Industrial Complex of MGIMO began about five years ago with the Program of Agricultural Training together with the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia, followed by the Master’s program and the MBA program”, — Artem Malgin, Vice-Rector on General Affairs and Corporate Relations of MGIMO, continued. “The goal of such programs is not only to teach trade, marketing and legal regulation of foreign trade turnover, but also to find the unusual lacunas that need to be filled. These lacunas are connected with the knowledge of intercultural communication, special aspects of a foreign language, which are necessary for the promotion of a group of products, and etc. This knowledge was accumulated in MGIMO and turned out to be in demand of the Ministry of Agriculture”, — he explained. 

At the same time, the user and the interested party of such programs is now not as much as the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia, as the private agricultural sector. Practicing specialists also take an active part in the students’ training. “Heads or their deputies of, probably, all the largest Russian companies working directly on the ground — processors, retailers, logisticians, participated in the training of specialists on global agricultural markets”, — Malgin said.

Training in the field of international marketing of agricultural and food products is very important, but technical and vocational education is no less valuable as Issa al-Mulla, Head of the National Program for the Development of Human Capital and Citizens of the Emirates, emphasized. “The Covid-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated problems of sustainability of food supply in the UAE and the need to encourage people and investors to engage in the agricultural business. Now there are many small companies that are trying to grow greenery and vegetables in greenhouses. We think this is already a big step forward”, — al-Mulla said. In addition, the provision of personnel for the HoReCa, retail and logistics is essential for the UAE. “But this requires a partnership of industry people, who must understand that in the matter of attracting young personnel they are not competitors, but partners. Furthermore, they should participate in the development of educational programs according to the needs of the market”, — he added.

Attracting young professionals to the agro-industrial sector in the UAE begins at school, continued Ahmed al-Sufi, Curator of Education in the Agro-Industrial Sector of the Ministry of Education of the UAE. “We begin to introduce subjects related to agriculture from the 9th grade. Students learn how the products are produced and what modern technologies, such as hydroponics, are available — that is an inclusive curriculum from which students can study agricultural science further. Other directions are food industry and food safety”, — al-Sufi listed. Such agricultural academies now have been established in 18 schools throughout the country with more than 500 students.

Vladimir Trukhachev, Rector of the Russian State Agrarian University — Moscow Timiryazev Agricultural Academy, spoke about the implementation of ESG-standards in the educational process. “In today’s conditions, an agrarian specialist should have completely different knowledge compared to those he had 5–10 years ago”, — he said. Since 1993, the Timiryazev Academy has been educating in agroecology, the Center for Sustainable Development of Rural Areas was created there in 1998 as well as the “Agro-technologies of the future” center in 2020. 
The “Priority 2030” program, which is aimed to create best research and innovative practices, has opened new opportunities for Russian universities. Within the framework of the program, 106 universities were selected, who have applied with 409 strategic projects. “Technologies require renewal — professions, training directions, the need for new filling of programs that will interest young people”, — said Marina Borovskaya, President of Southern Federal University. However, she is confident that the implementation of this task should begin with teaching staff renewal, as well as the establishment of industrial partnership and academic cooperation.

The heads of other Russian agrarian universities also shared the emphasis of the modern educational process. According to Alexander Trubilin, Rector of the Kuban State Agrarian University named after I. T. Trubilin, the modernization of programs should include not only training of professions that will be in demand in the future, but also the development of short educational programs and a system of mobile thematic seminars that would provide a model for “life-long education”. Dmitry Solovyev, Rector of the Saratov State Vavilov Agrarian University, described the achievements in the use of technologies of virtual and augmented reality in the educational process, and Ivan Atanov, Vice-Rector of Stavropol State Agrarian University, told about the training of schoolchildren on the basics of agriculture and the organization of student production teams. 

Balanced knowledge about farming, ecology and sustainability of production and consumption should be given to children before school as well, according to Abed Gera, Head of the Volcani Institute, an Israeli Agricultural Research Organization. “It is important to integrate agricultural thinking into the entire educational process, starting from kindergarten, and then to ensure that students will continue to do research work in agriculture after graduation. By neglecting the continuous improvement of the education system, we risk the global future and economic security”, — Gera said.

Alisher Tillayev, Director of the Academic Lyceum “International House Tashkent” at the “Tashkent Institute of Irrigation Engineers and Agricultural Mechanization” National Research University, described the goals and objectives in the sphere of the agrarian education in Uzbekistan. There are five such goals and objectives — the creation of new educational programs and organization of professional development and personnel retraining centers; the transformation of personnel policy in the light of modern global challenges; the development of scientific potential; the integration of science with education and enterprises of the real economy; as well as the increase of contribution of agrarian education into socio-economic development of regions.

The participants of the round table have identified the importance of international partnership in the modernization of agrarian education and introduction of new technologies to the curriculum, and also agreed to continue cooperation and exchange of experience.