One of the major activities of the ValueSeC project were two student study projects, one in Kenya and one in Ethiopia, organised together with Humboldt University of Berlin.
The two project teams comprised a bi-national student group as well as senior and junior trainers and teachers from all partner universities. The students first made a preparatory course at their home universities over one semester, developing the problem statement, designing the research and conceptualising the framework of the study. During this period, the different student groups did regularly communicate and shared different documents and work in progress. Subsequently, the groups joined for a two-week field excursion to research the impacts of horticultural export-orientation and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) as well as of value chain development for food security and income generation in the context of climate change.
The Kenyan student project involved 14 master and 4 PhD students from Karatina University as well as 19 German master students from Humboldt University of Berlin (HUB) and Cologne University who went on excursion in March 2015 to the Mt. Kenya region. The Ethiopian student project gathered 12 master students from HUB and 10 from Haramaya University for a joint excursion in September 2015 to the Rift Valley in Ethiopia.
The objectives for the students were to gain knowledge on value chain analysis, to get insights into the challenges of rural areas in the context of globalization and climate change and to develop theory-based research questions to carry out individual research projects.
The study projects provided a unique and innovative form of collective and participatory on-site learning for the students. Breaking up into small mixed research groups for field visits to several stakeholders in the fresh fruit and vegetable value chain, the students practiced problem-oriented approaches, trained their communication and problem-solving competences and their intercultural skills.
The lecturers and staff involved from all partner universities provided cross-cutting concepts of teaching combining different theories and methodologies to a multi-national group of students with different educational backgrounds: natural resources, rural development, geography, horticulture and others. Such interdisciplinary teams of the study projects facilitated the integration of different data, tools, perspectives, and theories to develop a conceptual framework for the study. In addition, the interdisciplinary teams looked at the on-site problems from various angles of disciplines, trying to synthesize the results at the end.
The teams learned about the complexity of problems that require an interdisciplinary view. For instance, a shift to export production will usually improve the income generation for small-holder farmers but it may, on the other hand, contribute to exhaust scarce natural resources for cash instead of food crop production, thus decreasing food availability at domestic markets. Furthermore, farmers get more strongly exposed to volatile world market prices, climate and other external shocks.
Another important lesson was to actively and sustainably integrate local stakeholders in the designing and planning as well as the implementation of projects, since they are not the problem but part of the solution!
The students have compiled their research results in two comprehensive reports. They presented the interesting findings at various international conferences as well as to the local population of the two research regions.