Derrick Deslandes | A CASE for agriculture
Many technocrats have questioned and even challenged the role of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) in the realm of agriculture policy in Jamaica.
These technocrats have contributed to the important conversations of CASE’s potential involvement in agricultural policy development. We are of the view that we can play a more involved and targeted role in this regard and are willing and able to assist whenever we are called on to do so. Indeed, we have been invited to participate in the Food Security & Agribusiness Council recently established by the Ministry of Industry, Agriculture and Fisheries, which aims to address the issues raised on the topic. For the record, we currently provide advice on specific policy matters from time to time, either solicited or unsolicited, depending on our scan of the current agriculture environment. To be clear, this conversation is certainly one that is not lost on us at CASE and have prompted us to reimagine our strategic vision and mission which will give us a competitive edge in the agriculture and tertiary space. Over the last five years, we have developed and are in the process of executing a new strategic plan that addresses all critical areas of the college, as well as its relationship with the ministries and partners with which we frequently interact.
NEW VISION AND MISSION
Vision: CASE will become a university recognised for outstanding scholarship, applied research and innovation in a learner-centred environment that prepares its graduates for global leadership and impact.
Mission: The College of Agriculture, Science and Education will contribute to the sustainable development of society through the pursuit of excellence in teaching, applied research and collaborative engagement in local and global communities.
Clearly, from our vision and mission, the importance of research as a critical part of our mandate is clearly understood by the CASE community. What is also understood by every member of the board, management and academic staff is its importance to the relevance of CASE, and the absolute requirement to transform from a primarily teaching focus environment to one that is also driven by pure and applied research and outreach. Emerging from the strategic planning process, we have instituted a Research Directorate to drive the research process and to provide individualised attention to lecturers across all three faculties to assist them in making the transition, a process which will take time.
IMPORTANCE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT
It is important to understand the historical context within which this conversation is taking place. CASE is the merger of two prior entities, the Passley Gardens Teachers College and the College of Agriculture, situated side by side, what we now call east and west campus. As with many mergers, unless deliberate steps over an extended period are taken to consummate the merger and ‘iron out all the wrinkles’, many points of tension and conflict will remain. The reality is no different for CASE. The recent strategic planning process from which we have emerged have allowed us to finally address some of these tensions and inherent conflicts and out of this process we have agreed that CASE is primarily an agricultural institution supported by science, business and education. CASE, as the only government-funded tertiary institution in the eastern region, we also have a responsibility to provide for the needs of the country in areas outside of but indirectly related to agriculture, such as hospitality and tourism, business, science and education.
TRANSFORMATION OF TEACHING AND LEARNING PROCESS
Over the past five years, with a doubling of our intake of agriculture students, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture (another outcome of our strategic planning process) has become our largest faculty, reflecting the focus of the institution and consistent with the views expressed by the technocrats in the field through extensive consultations. Interestingly, also emerging from the strategic planning process, the Faculty of Education renamed the Faculty of Education and Management, and the Faculty of Science renamed the Faculty Applied Science, Engineering and Technology have joined forces with the Faculty of Food and Agriculture to develop a number of new joint programmes that we are in the process of implementing. These include:
a. ASc in Agri-engineering Technologies
b. BSc in Agri-business Management
c. BSc in Agri-tourism Management
In partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, the college now offers Associates of Science Occupational degrees in Agro-food processing as well as Agro-processing and Business Management. Another robust partnership was formed with the USAID-FHI360 through the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica that offers fully funded programmes in agro-processing. The move to develop and offer agro-processing programmes is driven by our research which suggests that more focus must be placed on the value addition subsector, and to diversify our programme offerings to remain competitive.
CANNOT OPERATE IN VACUUM
We are of the view that agriculture cannot operate in a vacuum and that other disciplines play a critical role in widening the exposure of our students and opening up others areas of the sector that are becoming critically important to the development of the industry.
The college has implemented several master’s degree programmes in both agriculture and education. These programmes include:
a. MSc in Animal Science
b. MSc in Agriculture Education
c. MSc in Education
All of these programmes are accessible on our main campus at Passley Gardens, and our satellite campus in Ebony Park, Clarendon.
It is notable, too, that all our programmes are either fully accredited or are in the various stages of the accreditation cycle.
The landscapes of agriculture and education are rapidly changing, especially within the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. As Jamaica’s premier tertiary agriculture institution, we must evolve and find our right fit within the sector to provide superior guidance on policy and best practices in the interest of our nation.