''Organic Agriculture'' Master's Program

''Organic Agriculture'' Master's Program

Organic agriculture development steps in Armenia were undertaken in early 2000s with active participation of local NGOs and the international organizations. Several international agencies and the Armenian government were jointly implementing projects aimed at boosting organic sector development in the country. These efforts, however, were not supported by the simultaneous creation of skilled labour force of farmers and employees involved in the organic sector.

 

The Armenian government, in collaboration with European Union (EU) and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), has completed the Organic Agriculture Support Initiative (OASI) project promoting organic agriculture in Armenia to mitigate marginalized people in impoverished areas, better handle small farm sizes within the country and ensure the conservation of water, soil and biodiversity in the country. There have been projects and support for awareness and implementation of organic agriculture in the country, however with the recent developments in the organic sector in the country, came a demand for trained and skilled Armenian organic practitioners in research as well as in practice.

Building Organic Agriculture in Armenia (BOAA) project has been initiated with the intention to support the Armenian organic sector by closing the gap between farmers and science through the education and training of young professionals ready to enter the workforce.

The main objective of the project is to develop and implement the ‘’Organic Agriculture’’ master’s program at Armenian National Agrarian University (ANAU). This transdisciplinary project is being implemented in cooperation with ANAU, The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) and with the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) Foundation in Yerevan. The project is funded by Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) through APPEAR program. The project started in 2017 and the 3 years of its implementation went through 3 main phases: 

Phase 1: Stakeholder need assessment: Considering the participatory nature of the project, stakeholder need assessment study was carried out through focus group discussions and interviews. This phase helped the project team to identify the professional needs existing in organic agriculture sector in Armenia and to create a network of organic practitioners that would later collaborate with the teaching team and the students for the master's program.

Student visit to ''Bari Farm''

 

Establishment of a stakeholder committee for the BOAA project was initiated, when the need assessment study was carried out and the professional needs in organic sector were identified.  Previously conducted research projects and the focus group discussions organized in the scope of the project were particularly helpful for identifying the right people in the committee. BOAA stakeholder committee is composed of 20 people including students, lecturers, organic producers, processors, representatives from international organization, certification body, and Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of RA.

1-2 meetings annually were organized with the stakeholder committee to keep the committee members updated about the project progress and to involve them in discussions that were critical for curriculum development.  Stakeholders' input was particularly useful in developing master’s program course list and for identifying the priorities in the sector.

Phase 2 of the project encompassed the development of the organic master’s program curriculum and the training of the ANAU instructors not only in organic theory, methods and practice, but also in modern teaching approaches. The development of the curriculum was completed through many reiterations with different stakeholder groups—students, faculty and staff (from both ANAU and BOKU), project coordinators and organic stakeholders—with each lecturer responsible to incorporate suggestions and changes to their respective courses as they saw fit. The training of the instructors was originally conceptualized in two parts: 1) an Armenian partner team visiting BOKU’s Division of Organic Farming at the Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems as well as attending in-field visits; and 2) a BOKU teaching team visiting ANAU to both understand the Armenian agrarian context and help train and develop staff and curriculum. Finally, there were four 1-2 week long trainings and additional funding made possible for individual Armenian lecturers to receive specialized trainings throughout Europe, including additional BOKU visits.

Stakeholder committee meeting at Nairian farm

 

More importantly, the group decided on a common pedagogical philosophy and what direction they wanted the program to head in terms of using modern teaching approaches and methods focused on real-world challenges, stakeholder integration and student-centered education. The final three trainings all took place in Armenia with many BOKU lecturers and professors giving theoretical and practical organic specific trainings on various subjects. These trainings also included one-on-one time with Armenian lecturers to go over their course curriculum for improvements.

14 courses included in Master's program were developed throughout the project actively collaborating with BOKU University in Vienna. The courses cover a whole spectrum of organic agriculture starting from the conversion to organic agriculture and finishing with the marketing of organic produce. Master's program also includes summer internships during which the students will have the chance to ''get their hands dirty'' in Armenian organic farms. Organic agriculture modern literature and lab equipment has been acquired during the project to make sure that the Master's program students receive up-to-date practical knowledge.

Field training at organic apricot orchard

 

Phase 3 of the project included the finalization of the ''Organic Agriculture'' master's program and its curriculum, which was officially accepted by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of RA on December 24th 2020. This phase also included the Program’s dissemination and implementation. In addition to a stakeholder committee devoted to the implementation and management of the program, project dissemination occurred through social media, newspaper articles, student outreach events and a large public event including organic stakeholders. All the events were primarily aimed at raising awareness about organic agriculture and the upcoming master's program.

 ''Organic Agriculture'' master's program will start in September 2020 at ANAU and the program team will continue collaboration with BOKU University to offer exchange programs to students and teaching staff. 

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