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Educating the next generation of professionals in the agrifood system

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NEXTFOOD (Educating the next generation of professionals in the agrifood system)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

"Since the scientific and industrial revolutions, human activities—including those within the agri-food and forestry sectors—have been able to provide for the needs and wishes of a large portion of people, especially in the global North. The rapid population
increase through the 20th Century was unprecedented in the history of humankind. The achievements in food production have been made largely by consumption of finite production resources, at the expense of ecosystems and environmental conditions upon which human existence depends, with severe consequences such as galopping climate change, widespread biodiversity loss and scarcity of fresh water. The growing economy is to a vast degree favouring the already well-off global population with increasing inequality on a global scale.

Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development, as also stated as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Intertwined environmental, economic, political, and social challenges require transdisciplinarity, systems thinking and facilitation of informed action in an era of uncertainty and rapid change. Yet, our formal education is still largely based on the transmission of neatly packed disciplinary bodies of knowledge, presented as clouded truths. How we learn to see the world strongly influences what we do in the world. Consequently, there is an urgent need to re-think education and shift the overall focus in education from theoretical knowledge alone to the competences that are needed to support sustainable development. To meet such a demand, the Nextfood project has explored relevant educational approaches, and built them into an overall Nextfood approach to education in agrifood and forestry systems. Innovative educations strategies will be developed in a cyclical action research process ensuring that the actual case studies are ever-improving. The outcomes of Nextfood can serve as as a source of inspiration to higher education that are interested in educational transformation. To support this change on a large scale, Nextfood will disseminate supporting materials to teaching practitioners and future learners.

The challenge is to design and implement an effective learning strategy that overcomes the knowing–doing gap by enhancing both the learners’ understanding of complex situations and their individual and collective skills and abilities to take
informed, responsible action. A number of challenges is connected to this ambitious project aim. Not at least, it raises questions about what skills and competencies that should be emphasised in the education of future agricultural and forestry professionals. Moreover, such a transformation of higher education will challenge a number of institutional factors (dominating norms and values guiding how research and education is done today), not at least how we look upon and decide what is ""good"" quality research and education. It will necessarily provoke a discussion on how to assess research on the basis on societal impact and practical usefulness rather than solely on scientific excellence. Another challenge is related to the poor quality of educational policies in the agrifood and forestry sector, calling for a development of new policies in the education area is necessary."
1) Development of an inventory of skills: the first stage in creating an inventory of the skills and competencies needed for a transition to more sustainable agriculture, forestry and associated bio-value chains, has been accomplished by a number of research activities.Particularly skills related to aspects of collaboration and actively engaging in and dealing with change. Digital skills and ecological skills (such as agroecological practices and land management) should have increasing importance in future curricula.

2) Action research in case studies: during the summer months of 2018, the planning work consisted mostly of developing a deeper understanding of each case by following up their case descriptions and providing a research protocol and case manual. This action research protocol guides the data collection and analysis for all cases. Additionally, a master manual for case development was written and distributed to the case leaders to be used as a document to support and guide their case development.

3) Diagnostics of existing policies: New policies are necessary to support higher eduction in transforming education and to guide the training of the next generation of professionals in the agrifood and forestry sector. Preliminary results from an extensive survey investigation show that the quality of educational policy in the agrifood and forestry sector is genrally poor. There is a lack of long-term planning in policy-making, lack of budget allocation for this educational sector and a real policy is missing.

4) NEXTFOOD has developed a preliminary peer-review system for evaluation of practice-oriented research outputs focusing on sustainability and practical usefulness. This will assure quality in research and education and give credit to researchers and educators for their work focused more on societal impact and practical usefulness rather than solely scientific excellence. The operationalization of the assessment framework will result in an impact index that take the social, environmental and economic impact into consideration.

5) Dissemination and outreach: The DEO-plan was executed by undertaking a number of outreach activities, for example presenting NF at a number of meetings and seminars involving stakeholders, by writing articles to the NF website, by writing press releases to local media, posting written and audiovisual materials on the NF platform and through promotion in social media. The communication platform is continuously updated with content such as case study materials and deliverables. The website includes information about the project, information about the partners, information about each work package and the latest project news. The on-line project platform provides partners with the opportunity to communicate, upload relevant materials and to communicate. The project platform has two layers, one for our internal use and one for the public.
Kick-off meeting, Alnarp, Sweden