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Thursday 8th December 2:30pm GMT (English) hosted by Muhammed Assaf

Agricultural knowledge from academy to farming communities: The role of higher education in enhancing food security in Syria. (English)

The dynamics of the Syrian conflict present a complex set of challenges that led to an estimated 10.5 million Syrians being food insecure. This study explored the role of higher education (HE) in food security, considering how universities, graduates, and appropriate curriculum and research can help to address challenges and provide innovative solutions. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected from three regions (Al-Atareb, Azaz-Jarablus and Kafarnubul) in Northwest Syria. In total, 301 individual interviews were carried out with 118 internally displaced farmers and 183 host farmers across 50 villages. A survey questionnaire captured community-level feedback from local and internally displaced (ID) farmers, focusing on their social and economic circumstances; food production and availability; and agriculture extension services, often delivered by graduates and so providing insights into the relevance of HE curricula; as well as the research impact on food security pre- and post-2011. A total of six FGDs were conducted, two in each location, one with extension staff (including recent graduates) and the other with a mix of ID and local farmers. These focused on lessons learned, farmers’ success stories, and extension challenges and suggestions. The study revealed that 80% of respondents met their food requirements from their own agricultural activities; 50% of farmers noted that extension services had been weak pre-2011 and remained so, reflecting the limitations of HE agricultural curriculum; the knowledge of agronomists and veterinary practitioners needed to be continuously updated. The role of the agricultural curriculum and graduates in enhancing food security had reduced considerably during the conflict. The study concluded that alternative systems of knowledge transfer and modern theoretical and practical approaches were needed; and that building a network connecting Syrian academics and researchers with international universities and research institutions would bring together local knowledge and international expertise to support research to meet the needs of the current Syrian context.