Human Capital in Soil Science in Africa, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus


Two new reports of the Eurasian Center for Food Security (ECFS) review human capital in soil science in Africa, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus.

Human capital is the foundation of science and the services it can provide to society. This study took stock of the existing human capital in soil science in several regions to gain insights into the current structural gaps in this human capital. These gaps need to be filled to effectively address the current and emerging food security challenges.

I. On Soil Scientists and Where to Find Them in Africa: Assessment of Human Capital 
  • This report is an all-Africa opinion poll of practicing soil scientists. It broadly reflects the structure of the education, research, and environmental and agricultural services that soil scientists offer to the continent. It also reflects on the current job market for soil science graduates in Africa, future prospects for the job market, and demand for soil-related services.
  • The study combines four pathways of data collection: a questionnaire circulated to African soil scientists via the International Union of Soil Sciences and the national soil science societies as well as private networks of the authors (381 respondents); LinkedIn personal contacts (445); a good selection of the focal point contacts of the FAO Global Soil Partnership in African countries; and representatives from key institutions in or involved in Africa.
  • The continent has an extensive and well-distributed system of universities offering degrees in soil science, often in combination with other agricultural disciplines (e.g., agronomy, horticulture) to forge the human capital required for provision of services to agricultural development.
  • This human capital, however, is often not adequately utilized. In several countries the existing human capital is not sufficient to support those countries’ current and future needs.
  • The authors would like to encourage the agribusiness and development agencies operating in Africa to make full use of the soil expertise available on the continent and  engage and enhance local research, laboratory, and consulting services in solving the problems of food security and sustainable development on the continent.

II. Taking Stock of Human Capital in Soil Science for Central Asia and the South Caucasus 

  • This report evaluates whether the human capital in soil science within Central Asian and the South Caucasus countries is sufficient to meet the many food security and environmental challenges facing these countries now and is likely to be so in the near future. The report’s evaluation was designed to identify and analyze the strengths and gaps in capacity of human capital in soil science. It was built around desk review and visits to each country in the regions (except Turkmenistan) to pose questions to key participants and stakeholders within the soil science profession and end users of soil information in the public and private sectors.
  • Considering the number of countries, institutions, and individuals included in the interviews, the degree of agreement was significant. There is general agreement that there are well-qualified fundamental soil scientists throughout the region. As a group, these fundamental soil scientists tend to be late in their careers. There are not similar numbers of younger soil scientists ready to take their places.
  • Higher education institutions and government research institutes suffer from decades of low investment. Soil science education generally emphasizes theory rather than practice; teaching methods have not been changed for the last 20 years and do not respond to the demands of today’s job market. All this makes it difficult to attract young people to careers in soil science. Agricultural extension throughout the region would benefit from more engagement by soil scientists.
  • The authors recommend that universities, research institutes, and governments work together to encourage a “new breed” of soil scientist, familiar with modern tools of the trade and focused on applied research to address challenges of food security, land management, and environmental protection.
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