By Jane Anyango
244 students from five universities – Makerere, Kyambogo, Gulu, Busitema and Bishop Stuart University have been flagged off to Israel for a one year paid internship. 10 out of the 244 flagged off are female.
The students were flagged of by the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University represented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration (DVCFA) Assoc. Prof. Josephine Nabukenya on 13th October, 2021 at a colorful ceremony held in the Central Teaching Facility 2 (CTF2) Auditorium, Makerere University.
The function was also attended by a team from the Agrostudies center in Israel led by the CEO Mr. Yaron Tamir, representatives from the participating Universities in Uganda, Principal, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Alumni and Coordinators of the Agrostudies Apprenticeship Programme from the five universities.
Prior to the flag off, the Mr. Yaron Tamir and his deputy paid a courtesy call on the Vice Chancellor where they discussed matters of interest to the university and the Government of Uganda especially a plan to start an Agrostudies Alumni Cooperative in Uganda and the possibility of the program Alumni to support Government in providing extension services.
The Agrostudies cohort 2021/2022 was organized under the theme, “Securing the Future of Uganda through Agriculture Capacity Building”. At Makerere University, the programme was coordinated by Dr. Mildred Ochwo-Ssemakula and Dr. Narisi Mubangaizi from the School of Agricultural Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES).
The students’ participation in the Agrostudies agriculture capacity building program is a response to the need to transform from subsistence to more commercial agriculture in a bid to secure the future of Uganda.
Presiding over the function as Chief Guest, Assoc. Prof. Josephine Nabukenya welcomed all to Makerere describing the University as a warm and peaceful community.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor reported that Uganda is grappling with several development challenges including low agricultural production and productivity, negative attitude of youth towards agriculture and high rates of unemployment among the youth.
She noted that the Agrostudies apprenticeship programme which aims at exposing Ugandan University Students to modern agricultural technologies in agriculture has a huge potential to deal with these development challenges.
Dr. Nabukenya said most of the students that have participated in the agrostudies apprenticeship programme have set up agricultural enterprises in which they have applied knowledge, skills and financial resources acquired from the programme.
On behalf of Makerere University and all participating universities in Uganda, Prof. Nabukenya appreciated the foresightedness of the Israeli and Ugandan Governments for coming up with this wonderful programme
“By setting up agricultural enterprises, these students have become job creators rather than job seekers. These agricultural enterprises set up by alumni of the Agrostudies apprenticeship programme are also helping in transferring technologies from Israel to other farmers in Uganda,“ she stated.
Dr. Nabukenya expressed gratitude to the governments of Uganda and Israel for entrusting Makerere University with the noble responsibility of being the national coordinator for the Agrostudies program in Uganda and pledged total commitment towards the programme’s success and continuity.
She said, the university has embarked on the process of institutionalizing the programme where the Office of the Vice Chancellor has mandated the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) to coordinate the programme on behalf of Makerere University from 2021 onwards.
The DVCFA also thanked CAES for accepting this responsibility and for the progress so far made. As proof of the university commitment to the programme, Prof. Nabukenya said, Makerere University has provided free accommodation to all the students selected under the programme residing within the students’ halls of residence.
She appreciated the efforts made by several units of Makerere University including the Vice Chancellors’ Office, Office of the University Secretary, Finance and Accounts, University Hospital, Dean of Students and staff in the students’ halls of residence to support the programme.
Dr. Nabukenya congratulated the students upon their successful selection for the program, a competitive process involving rigorous medical examinations as well physical fitness training to ensure that they are mentally, physically and emotionally ready for the work ahead of them.
“Please do not waste this golden opportunity. I encourage you to learn as much as you can and observe very good discipline during your stay in Israel. Above all, I humbly appeal to you to fully observe all the rules and guidelines of the programme and to return to Uganda at the end of the programme”, Dr. Nabukenya implored.
The DVCFA thanked the Agrostudies team from Israel for adjusting the earlier position regarding the non-participation of female students in the programme by enrolling 10 female students.
She however appealed to the Agrostudies Israel team to consider increasing the number of female students onto the programme in the subsequent years, saying, Makerere University is a gender sensitive institution and tries as much as possible to promote gender equity and equality by giving equal opportunities to both males and females.
Orienting the students, the Chief Executive Officer Agrostudies program Mr. Yaron Tamir thanked Makerere University for hosting and selecting the candidates for the year 2021/2021.
Mr. Yaron said Agro studies was established 17 years ago to conduct agricultural capacity building by bringing students from different countries doing traditional agriculture to Israel to learn and practice modern agriculture. He clarified that Agrostudies is neither a university nor a replacement of a university but one has to be a university student to qualify for the program.
The CEO said Agro studies enrolls around 1,500 students every year from 14 countries including Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Benin, Liberia among others. He cautioned students against laziness, escaping and staying in Israel beyond the program period.
“You are not going for summer. It involves very hard and intensive work in the field. If you feel you are not qualified or capable of doing it, this is not a place for you. It is true Agrostudies is a life changing program and we have thousands of students with amazing successful stories but you need to understand that agriculture is not done in the office, it does not involve air condition but it is hard physical work in the field”, the CEO emphasized.
Mr. Yaron however told students not be afraid when they reach the airport saying it is their job to take care of them as mothers and fathers for the next eleven months.
“If you are sick, or have a problem back home, we are the ones to take care of you. We will be very communicative with the university in case of problems and we will solve them. We have a member of staff who will be in charge and he will visit you on the farm, check accommodation to see that everything is well and on arrival at the airport you will be availed emergency numbers”, the CEO pledged.
Yaron told students that on arrival in Israel they will be quarantined for seven days, hosted in a farm apartment and given food and other necessities but before exiting the airport they will be subjected to a PCR test at a cost of USD 20 which will be repeated after seven days at no cost but they will have to pay for a PCR test upon their return to Uganda.
He urged students to carry with them laptops for they will start school during that quarantine period through the Israel system including all courseworks and tests adding that they have to pass to get that diploma.
The CEO said, once out of quarantine, students will be vaccinated because every citizen is vaccinated with Pfitzer noting that Israel is the first country in the world that gives a booster because after 6 months of vaccination the anti-bodies disappear or become low.
He explained that whether vaccinated or not, it does not matter as long as one is through with the quarantine period. In Israel, he said that a green tag is issued after vaccination to allow one to go to a restaurant, mall and other public places.
He reported that the Delta COVID variant was rampant but with the vaccination, the number has gone down significantly and going low day by day with anumber of PCR tests conducted.
He told students that they will be going to one of the campuses once every week to meet teachers, doctors and students from other countries and experience different courses of agriculture including crop, horticulture and dairy farming.
“Our job is to take the knowledge you have acquired here at university and transfer it into actions. Israel is a small and a highly developed agricultural nation with almost no arable land, the majority being a desert with a huge shortage of water unlike Uganda with a lot of water. And only 2% of the population grows everything the population needs and we export 150% of it because we have the technologies and this is why we hope you will experience this technology.
Success comes with hard work, so you will spend five days on the farm doing all farm activities, earn money for it and once you earn, it is important that you save a significant amount to help you come to Uganda and open your own business”, the CEO said
Part of the school requirement according to Yaron is for the students to prepare the agricultural protocol where they will study what the farms have and analyse them so as to help them understand how to eventually start their own agricultural business. Among other things of agricultural course is the requirement by students to prepare a business proposal with the help of Israeli experts so that once they come back, they will have the capital to start a business.
Mr. Yaron observed that unlike Rwanda where the largest cooperative is owned by 101 Agrostudies alumni and the second largest is owned by 39 Agrostudies alumni, there is not yet a cooperative owned by Agrostudies graduates in Uganda.
Yaron told students that Israel farmers are very strict with time adding that they must understand that agriculture is a very profitable business and depends on how one does it. He said, Israel used to grow mangoes but abandoned them for avocados and cherry tomatoes because they are more profitably grown using irrigation from 80% recycled domestic water.
“Israel is a good country but with very hard conditions so we had to do what was possible especially using technology not to starve. You need to know you are not representing yourself but Uganda. … you are young, your future is bright. Come back and be a success story not to end with few dollars in restaurants to wash dishes”, the CEO warned.
The Principal CAES Prof. Bernard Bashaasha described the day’s event as a happy day and thanked the coordinating team from various universities for a job well done.
Prof. Bashaasha thanked the Government of Uganda and Government of the state of Israel for the political collaboration and partnerships that enables such activities to take place.
Bashaasha also expressed appreciation to the Vice Chancellors of the five participating universities for embracing the program.
He thanked Agrostudies for the vision and initiative that started in 2013 noting that seventeen years down the road, the vision has matured.
The Principal congratulated the selected students for successfully reaching the flagging-off stage and going through a stiff competition, thorough screening process and medical examination
“When you go to Israel, be good ambassadors. You are carrying the flag of Uganda and take that very seriously because it is not just a ritual but something seriously intended. When you go, please come back so as not to spoil chances of your other colleagues and the implementation of the program”, Bashaasha advised.
Prof. Bashaasha appreciated the Government of Uganda for putting up a policy framework that allows such activities to happen.
He said the Agrostudies activity being conducted in various universities here is anchored in the government policy on guidelines of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET 2009) in the Ministry of Education and Sports.
Giving oversight of this, Prof. Bashaasha said, is the TVET Council which provides guidelines with eleven key parameters which stipulate that there has to be a governance structure, some remuneration, a written contract, social security coverage, a legal framework, the program of learning, on-off job training, formal assessment and within the duration of one to four years.
Jane Anyango is the Principal Communication Officer, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)