Teaching is the key but more is needed
The support from the European Union, including Erasmus+ projects supported by the European Education and Culture Executive Agency, is usually thought to be a kind of seed money, to trigger or launch a process that will later on gather momentum in itself and will serve for the benefit of society in a wider sense. Design, development, implementation and teaching of a new curriculum are a classic example of this kind. In this context, teaching and implementation of precision agriculture is crucial for countries like Algeria who import substantial part of their food. Reaching food security and the ability to provide own products to the nation is an intrinsic component of security in contemporary world.
It is not enough to simply launch teaching of such matters and then let the system evolve by itself. The CUPAGIS team discussed numerous times how we can make this additional component of agriculture and economy in Algeria sustainable. These discussions started during the preparation phase of the project. One idea was to create so-called PASENSO (Precision Agriculture using SENsing data Service Office, https://cupagis.eu/index.php/documents/project-documentation) competence offices that could evolve into knowledge brooking and marketing centres that would also be able to gather feedback from the users and stakeholders and in this way support and guide the teaching.
Transcontinental personal contacts
Another core idea of CUPAGIS was building transboundary and even transcontinental personal contacts between partners. A simple consequence would be the situation where the necessary expertise is just a phone call, Messenger message or e-mail away.
But only contacts do not help. The carriers of expertise should know which kind of questions could be asked and the recipients should be aware of the expertise area of their partners. This situation needs to be shaped and the necessary connections, understanding and wish for cooperation to be developed.
For this reason, we originally planned multiple trans-Mediterranean visits of experts of the European partners (including numerous master classes) as well as tight cooperation between the European partners to update and/or upgrade the knowledge to be transferred to the partner country.
The relevant plans were destroyed by COVID. International travel was virtually impossible for two years, from March 2020 to late winter of 2021/2022. Even though we replaced one training event by a massive series of web-based trainings (see https://cupagis.eu/index.php/meetings/cupagis-online-master-classes), we felt that the lack of personal contacts may undermine the effect created by transfer of competence over the Mediterranean and developing new curricula in Algerian universities.
The must under circumstances: a memorable final event
A clear indication in this respect was given by the external evaluator of the project Dr Andrey Girenko already at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. As reflected in the notes of the coordination meeting on 30 April 2020 (see https://cupagis.eu/index.php/meetings/cupagis-coordination-meetings/coordination-meeting-30-04-2020):
“The analysis showed that the traditional dissemination has a bigger impact in the Partner Country. Recommendations: request more targeted dissemination actions targeting the partner Universities staff members (e.g. internal dissemination workshop or presentations collocated with other internal University activities). /--/ If possible, allocate more resources and attention to the project dissemination events (maybe by downsizing the electronic dissemination). The final conference shall be a really visible and highly attended event. /--/ The next evaluation round should include the attendance by the EE of one of the project events (if the Corona situation will allow) and the organization of special meeting with the project participants. The timing shall allow drawing conclusions before the closure of the project.”
To make use of these hints, more time was necessary. Fortunately, the funding Agency accepted to prolong the project for one year. This decision made it possible to implement the above recommendations.
Through hard times by enhanced communication
It was decided immediately when travel restrictions were eased in summer 2021 that we should put much more emphasis on harmonizing our doings on the entire network level whenever it will be possible to travel again. More or less at the same time it become clear that one partner cannot continue its contribution into the project. It was to adjust the tasks of European partners after the capacity of this partner (Technical University of Berlin) substantially dropped in 2021. This situation needed several extraordinary meetings to sort out the situation and to ensure further smooth run of the project:
- https://cupagis.eu/index.php/meetings/cupagis-coordination-meetings/extraordinary-coordination-meeting-30-09-2021 (online)
- https://cupagis.eu/index.php/meetings/cupagis-coordination-meetings/extraordinary-coordination-meeting-10-12-10-2021 (physical, Berlin)
- https://cupagis.eu/index.php/meetings/cupagis-coordination-meetings/online-coordination-meeting-23-11-2021 (online)
It was also clear that we needed enhanced communication ability and capacity to make real use of recommendations of the external evaluator. This process started from the visit of the coordinator and the communication officer to Berlin in early 2022. Along with the above tasks, this visit gave rise to a comprehensive newspaper article in the leading Estonian daily newspaper Postimees (The Postman) about the background, core tasks, vision and aspiration of the entire project: Postimees, 12.03.2022, https://teadus.postimees.ee/7459764/berliini-restorani-menuus-ei-kajastu-aafrika-naljahada-ja-pollumajanduse-mured (in Estonian).
Another crucial task was the necessity to provide support to the Algerian partners about the features and capacities of additional sensor equipment purchased in winter 2021/2022 and spring 2022. The coordinator felt necessary to personally visit at least once all the partners for the same reason, to create the big picture of the topics and classes that could be presented to the final event, to agree in person who will be doing what and when, and to inspire project teams and their contacts-stakeholders to continue development of precision agriculture in the country. Such personal contacts and agreements are particularly crucial in Algeria.
To pave the way toward “the final conference [that] shall be a really visible and highly attended event this series of events”, the European partners launched in spring 2022 a series of bilateral consultations, mini-workshops and regional think-tanks towards properly shaping this final event. This dedicated sequence mapping of gaps in the existing pool of transfer of competence to the partners because of COVID and in the light of additional equipment (to be) purchased for teaching of new curricula, identification of expertise in communication and dissemination that could be transferred to partners, search of the carriers of still-missing experience within the European project partners (including the needs of the planned training in communication skills), and making early agreements about the timing and content of lectures and master classes to be provided. The experience of reporting about expenses added one more nuance: it was necessary to repeat the information about the relevant rules.
This task was realised by a sequence of visits of the coordinator and the project assistant Mrs Anu Green to the European partners in Germany, Bulgaria and Czech Republic, in order to be mutually informed about their new possibilities and capacities developed during the three and half project years and that could be used for filling the final event with content.
A number of lectures and master classes was a must (https://cupagis.eu/index.php/about/news). More importantly, the consortium felt it necessary to bring together students and teachers from different universities. Doing so could be a trigger for the creation of a nucleus of network of students. An event of co-teaching of students and co-training of teachers was a major challenge that needed much of thinking and coordination beforehand. In particular, we felt that a preparative trip to Algeria is absolutely necessary to reach the desired level of impact. It is my pleasure to say that the project officer in the Agency accepted this idea. Particularly busy weeks in Algeria and visits to all five partner universities in June–July 2022, including meetings with students in all universities, was truly inspiring. Only a small fraction of the feelings are reflected in formal reports, such as
Much more information and emotions were communicated via Facebook pages of the entire project and the relevant pages of partners and students. See also: https://cupagis.eu/index.php/about/news
The decision to have a massive series of final events in Tiaret, Algeria (https://cupagis.eu/index.php/about/news) was a materialisation of the described efforts, and was coined into a highly rewarding event by efforts of all partners.