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Creating high-tech ‘agropreneurs’ through
education and skills development
Sungsup Ra, Mahfuzuddin Ahmed & Paul S. Teng
To cite this article: Sungsup Ra, Mahfuzuddin Ahmed & Paul S. Teng (2019) Creating high-
tech ‘agropreneurs’ through education and skills development, International Journal of Training
Research, 17:sup1, 41-53, DOI: 10.1080/14480220.2019.1629736
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14480220.2019.1629736
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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Creating high-tech ‘agropreneurs’through education and
, Mahfuzuddin Ahmed
and Paul S. Teng
Human and Social Development Division, South Asia Regional Department, Asian Development Bank,
Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development
Bank, Manila, Philippines;
National Institute of Education International, Nanyang Technological University,
Under current population growth and demographic trends –with food
demand projected to increase by 60%–70% by 2050 –another quan-
tum leap in food production and disruptive change in agricultural and
food systems are needed in Asia. Certainly, the Green Revolution and
other technological advances enormously improved agricultural pro-
ductivity on the region’sfarms.Buttofullybeneﬁtfromaninfusionof
advanced knowledge and high technologies, agricultural workforces
need ‘Industry 4.0’skills, but for now are falling short. This paper argues
that investing in education and skills development to create a new
breed of ‘agropreneurs’in Asian developing countries is crucial.
Developing Asia; agriculture;
food security; education and
JEL CLASSIFICATION CODE
Education and Economic
As Asian populations grow, incomes rise, and dietary preferences change, food produc-
tion must rise. By 2050 Asia’s population is expected to reach 5.3 billion, from the
4.5 billion in 2017 (60% of the global total) (United Nations, Department of Economic
and Social Aﬀairs, Population Division, 2017). To meet this greater demand by 2050, food
production needs to increase by 60%–70% by that year, from 2005–2007 baseline.
Asia is already the world’s largest food market. With its middle-class fast expanding, it
will likely account for half of the annual global increase in beef and poultry consumption
and over three-quarters of the rise in ﬁsh consumption from 2017 to 2030 (Food and
Agriculture Organization [FAO], 2019). By then, more than 60% of developing world
cereal demand will come from South and East Asia.
As such, traditional, input-driven agriculture is no longer an option. Until now, Asia’s
farms have typically increased resource-use intensity to raise production and serve
burgeoning demand. But emerging supply- and demand-side challenges call for more
innovative and knowledge-intensive agriculture in which the capacity of the agricultural
workforce will be important game changers. Greater investment in education and skills
development will be crucial in developing a new breed of high-tech ‘agropreneurs’,or
rather, entrepreneurs with a mastery of high-technology products and services to
CONTACT Sungsup Ra firstname.lastname@example.org Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines
Special Open Access Supplement Issue: Emerging Labor Markets of the Future –Re-imagining Skills Development and
Training, Joint Editors: Sungsup Ra, Shanti Jagannathan and Rupert Maclean
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH
2019, VOL. 17, NO. S1, 41–53
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the termsof the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
improve agricultural productivity and the value chain. Such agropreneurs can more
readily embrace the potential in automation and data-exchange technologies such as
cloud and cognitive computing, or the internet of things, and others emerging under
the ‘Industry 4.0’revolution.
This paper describes agriculture’s transition from traditional input-intensive subsis-
tence production systems to more modern, knowledge-intensive business enterprises. It
then assesses the role of agricultural education and skills development systems in this
transition. The last section provides key conclusions and recommendations.
Evolving agricultural science, knowledge, and practice
Agricultural practices in the recent past have evolved mostly by focusing on improvements in
resource inputs. Until the 19th century, food production grew largely by expanding cultivated
land area and using limited farm machinery in operations (such as seedbed preparation,
seeding and/or planting, weed control, and water management). And the 20th century’sﬁrst
decade brought the use of low-cost nitrogen as a fundamental scientiﬁc breakthrough.
Modern production techniques arising out of the mid-1960s Green Revolution in Asia
then allowed smallholder farmers to triple cereal production, ensuring food for millions
of people, especially in South and Southeast Asia. During this period, recommended
crop production technologies included use of the best available commercial varieties,
including hybrids and proper land preparation and seeding. It also stressed proper
application of fertilizers and crop protection chemicals, timely weed control, and eﬃ-
cient water management. Better postharvest handling of crops also reduced losses from
spoilage and infestation and allowed farmers to hold stocks while waiting for more
favorable market prices (Borlaug, 2000).
Global trends since the 1960s have seen population growth hold relatively steady at
1.6% per year, yet cereal production rose at a faster 2.2%. This was due mainly to 2.0%
annual average growth in yields (Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], 2017); per
capita supply of cereals in 2014 was thus 40% higher than it was in 1961. By 2050,
however, cereal production will need to be 60% higher than the 2005–2007 baseline,
based on projected global population of 9.8 billion people by then (United Nations,
Department of Economic and Social Aﬀairs, Population Division, 2017).
Agriculture over the ages has been viewed as a way of life: highly dependent on nature
(weather conditions), very much driven by input supply (land, labor, materials, water
resources), and subject to uncertainties (market prices). The agriculture market is frag-
mented and conservative, and the majority of farmers in Asia and the Paciﬁc are
smallholders. Increasing farm productivity under this approach requires more capital,
labor, and material inputs at the same time, even as harvest failures hold consequences
for food security and livelihoods. However, a range of emerging biophysical and socio-
economic issues is challenging tradition (Figure 1).
On the demand side, steady population growth, rapid urbanization, changing dietary
preferences, and evolving consumer mindsets about food are pressing in. And in the last
42 S. RA ET AL.
3 decades, most Asian economies have progressed from low-income to middle- or high-
income status, this rising aﬄuence fueling urbanization and making urban areas more
attractive to rural dwellers. During 1980–2017, Asia’s total population increased 1.5%
per year, on average, driven by urbanization: urban population grew an average 3.1%
and rural only 0.4% per year. About 50% of Asia’s population is now urban and may
reach 57% by 2030 and to 66% by 2050 (United Nations, Department of Economic and
Social Aﬀairs, Population Division, 2018).
Urbanization and higher incomes, in addition to increasing female labor force parti-
cipation, are changing dietary patterns. Preferences are shifting to animal proteins, fruits,
vegetables, and processed and packaged products (ADB, 2011), putting pressure on
traditional production systems. Likewise, rising aﬄuence accompanied by greater con-
sumer awareness have led to demand for ‘clean’foods produced sustainably,
a noticeable change in mindset. In some food systems, supply chains to deliver food
from ‘farm to table’now use modern identity preservation techniques, cold chain
management, and blockchain technology.
On the supply side, traditional/conventional agricultural production systems have been
increasingly pressed against resource limitations. Area expansion is now limited due to
land degradation, conversion, and urbanization. Extractive systems from competing users
have depleted water resources, and agrochemical pollutants have degraded soil and
water quality. Environmental degradation has made huge areas of land barren, with the
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertiﬁcation reporting that desertiﬁcation aﬀects
nearly 40% of Asia’s total land area (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertiﬁcation
[UNCCD], 2019). Urbanization exacerbates land loss, with one estimate putting the loss of
arable land to urban expansion in Asia at 3% per year (d’Amour et al., 2017).
At the same time, disasters including droughts, coastal ﬂooding, and cyclones are
getting more frequent and more devastating. While future warmer temperatures may
beneﬁt some crops in South Asia, climate change is expected to hurt agriculture overall,
seriously threatening food security (Ahmed & Suphachalasai, 2014). Itself a signiﬁcant
source of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, conventional agriculture is
now under threat from climate change and disaster risk.
Figure 1. Emerging demand- and supply-side challenges in agriculture.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH 43
A lack of capital, meanwhile, limits smallholder farmers’access to modern technolo-
gies such as higher-yielding crop varieties and farm equipment and machinery that
would have minimized the need for labor (which has become a limiting production
factor) and helped increase farm productivity. Throughout Asia, the migration of
younger generations from rural to urban areas and shifts to employment in non-farm
sectors have left the older generations to remain smallholder farmers.
Smallholder farmers are also not yet fully ready for the trend in agriculture toward
consolidation of production, processing, marketing, promotion, and distribution under
integrated agroenterprises. There is a related need to enhance and strengthen farmers’
agricultural business know-how, including business networks. Each of these factors accent-
uates the diﬃculties smallholder farmers have in transitioning from low-productivity sub-
sistence farming to higher-productivity enterprise farming (Teng & Oliveros, 2017).
Emerging challenges have given rise to knowledge-intensive agriculture utilizing tech-
nological innovations. This requires understanding and application of advanced infor-
mation that improves agricultural production and marketing, eﬃciently manages risks,
and sustainably raises productivity and proﬁtability (ADB 2014; Hasnie & Ra, 2018; Powell
& Snellman, 2004).
In Figure 2, Briones, Basher, and Ahmed (2017) depict the sophisticated application of
information and communication technologies (ICT) in knowledge-intensive agriculture.
ICT can optimize the development and adoption of modern varieties, farm production
inputs and operations, and postharvest operations (processing, storage, logistics, and
marketing). High-level technologies have developed genetically engineered crops (such
as Bt crops) with improved pest resistance, nanotechnology-formulated higher-eﬃcacy
agrochemicals, and precision agriculture practices that deliver precise quantities of
water and fertilizers to plots and plants under a smart farming system. Now, with climate
change, ‘smart greenhouses’have been designed with remote environmental sensors
and other green technologies to automate microclimate control systems for more
controlled farming and processing conditions and manage weather, pests, and diseases.
Figure 2. Role of information technology in knowledge-intensive agriculture.
44 S. RA ET AL.
In the People’s Republic of China, farmers are using drones for crop dusting and
spraying pesticides across huge areas within a shorter period and at much lower costs
for labor and equipment maintenance (Hasnie & Ra, 2018). Beyond the ﬁelds, high-level
technologies encompass the whole food value chain, from new processing and packa-
ging methods to reduce wastage and ensure hygiene and quality, to smart logistics
information systems and e-commerce or online marketing (Teng, 2019).
Also on the rise is ‘internet-plus rural economy’or ‘digital agriculture’. Internet tech-
nologies (mobile internet, internet of things, cloud computing, big data, and satellite
imagery) enable knowledge intensity that boosts eﬃciency in rural economies, from
production and processing to the delivery of agriculture social services (ﬁnance, technical
services). They can also diversify rural incomes from leisure agriculture and rural tourism
and increase daily consumption in farming households (ADB, 2018b). In the People’s
Republic of China, for example, internet technology has modernized many traditional
rural industries, providing small farmers with access to fast, real-time, and reliable electro-
nic information on weather forecasts, input–output prices, and local or global markets,
thereby enhancing rural productivity and eﬃciency. Internet technology has also opened
up new opportunities for rural entrepreneurship and innovation, motivating young
people to engage in rural e-business ventures (ADB, 2018b; Hasnie & Ra, 2018).
Greater investment in agriculture innovation in coming years can further transform the
sector. These include agricultural ICT (farm management software and agricultural data
capturing services), biomaterials (on-farm waste processing), and value chain and agribusi-
ness (commodities trading platforms, farm-to-consumer eGrocery services), according to
the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture
To cope with these knowledge and innovation trends, agricultural education and
skills development need attention. Current and potential agricultural labor forces, farm-
ers, farm managers, service providers, and processors can be equipped with new knowl-
edge and skills through relevant education and training. These changes will boost
employability, raise productivity and earning capacity, and help reinvigorate the agri-
Education and skills development for agricultural transformation
In recent decades, advances in science and technology have transformed all sectors,
including agriculture. However, while agricultural outputs rose, industrial and service
sector outputs grew faster (Table 1), and employment shifted away from agriculture to
better-paying jobs in the two latter, mostly urban sectors (ADB, 2018a; International
Labour Organization, 2018). From 2000 to 2017 within Asia and the Paciﬁc, the share of
industry in total employment increased in 24 of 36 economies and of services in 28 of 36,
yet that of agriculture declined in 34 of 36 economies (ADB, 2018c). Agriculture still
employs the most people in developing countries yet quality labor for the sector is limited.
As noted, many younger farmers migrate to urban areas, leaving often older workers back
home with declining productivity and fewer skills in adopting modern technologies and
practices. For most Asian countries (including those with the largest populations), the shift
of employment away from agriculture into other sectors has made it unviable to intensify
labor needed to raise agricultural outputs (Briones et al., 2017).
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH 45
This is where education becomes relevant. Studies have shown that better educated
or more knowledgeable farmers are able to improve farm operations, productivity, and
proﬁtability; still other studies have found, nonetheless, that such farmers may in fact
leave agriculture to join industry or services sectors for better wages and working
conditions –although remittances to their families remaining in agriculture still con-
tribute to farm enterprises.
Numerous studies have examined the relationship between farmers’educational
attainment and labor productivity. These include their perceptions of and willing-
ness to adopt new, modern, and high-levelproductiontechnologies (including
options to address climate change and natural hazard impact) and their ability to
adopt and improve recommended farm management and production practices. It
also includes their propensity to shift to oﬀ- or nonfarm employment, among other
A study of 670 rice farm households across four provinces in Luzon, Philippines, for
example, found that rice productivity can be increased by 26% through education of the
household head (Luis, Paris, Rola-Rubzen, & Pede, 2015). Knowledge-intensive technol-
ogies –technologies that require knowledge for maximization of beneﬁts such as drone
technology, agribots, fertigation, biotechnology –require that farmers are able to absorb
knowledge through modern communication technologies. Formal and informal ‘ups-
killing’training can provide adult household members with technical knowledge to
better understand production technologies and management techniques and to wel-
come innovations that can increase the farm’s technical eﬃciency, productivity, and
proﬁtability. Better understanding of consumer preferences, acceptable production and
processing systems, and product value chains will also help in integrating small-scale
farmers into domestic, regional, and global markets for high-value agricultural products
In India, Sharma and Bhaduri (2009) found occupational mobility to be higher among
younger farmers who were more sensitive to income diﬀerentials between farm and
Table 1. Share of agriculture in employment and gross domestic product, selected Asian countries,
1970 (nearest year) to 2017 (%).
Share in Employment Share in Gross Domestic Product
China, People’s Republic of 80.8 50.0 27.7 (2016) 34.8 14.9 8.2
Japan 17.4 5.1 3.4 5.1 1.5 1.1
Korea, Republic of 50.5 10.7 4.8 27.5 4.4 2.2
Bangladesh 58.8 50.8 40.6 54.6 25.5 14.2
India n.a. 59.9 n.a. 42.0 23.0 17.1
Pakistan 57.3 48.4 42.3 (2015) 36.8 27.4 24.4
Sri Lanka n.a. 36.0 26.1 n.a. 17.6 8.5
Indonesia 61.5 45.3 29.7 23.3 15.6 13.7
Philippines 50.4 37.1 25.4 29.5 14.0 9.7
Thailand 76.7 44.2 31.5 25.9 8.5 8.7
Viet Nam n.a. 65.1 40.2* n.a. 24.5 17.0
*= preliminary; n.a. = not available.
1970 ﬁgures are from World Bank (n.d.), World Development Indicators; and FAO (2019).
2000 and 2017 ﬁgures are from ADB (2018c).
46 S. RA ET AL.
nonfarm occupations than older farmers. The farmer’s education and skill level also
positively inﬂuenced the decision to shift out of agriculture, as these traits increased the
person’s marketability and returns to migration. Low levels of educational attainment
have thus led to inadequate supply of skilled labor in Indian agriculture, due to the
greater potential for jobs in high-productivity manufacturing and services (ADB, 2016).
Revamping agricultural education
The key challenge is revamping agricultural education to ensure that the millions of
smallholder farmers and agricultural labor –each with diﬀerent skills and knowledge –
are able to practice knowledge-intensive agriculture. Renewed agricultural education
systems should produce a workforce responsive to the needs of a modernizing agricul-
ture sector. The agricultural education ‘gap’can be addressed by (i) updating curricu-
lums and programs with the latest scientiﬁc knowledge and technical breakthroughs
from the agricultural research and development community; (ii) enhancing the capacity
of institutional facilities (laboratories) and human resources (faculty) to promote inno-
vative technologies and practices; and (iii) strengthening academe-industry links and
partnerships across the entire agriculture value chain.
Knowledge-intensive agriculture needs farmers who understand more sophisti-
cated production technologies and modern systems of farm management, ﬁnance,
and logistics. As such, high-technology universities with the appropriate physical
facilities and qualiﬁed human resources should be developed. These subjects can
be taught in the short-term to existing smallholder farmers if they are designed well
with a speciﬁcfocus.
Strengthening the agricultural research and extension system
Current agricultural extension services –designed mainly to deliver agricultural inputs –
need to be refurbished to deliver the latest technologies and knowledge to farmers.
Agricultural extension workers have to be educated and trained as well in advanced
technologies. For example, e-extension oﬀers tremendous promise for reaching farmers
better and faster through mobile communication, smart phone-based decision support,
and other novel e-learning platforms (Mushtaq et al., 2017). Suﬃcient investment in
eﬀective agricultural extension services will help ensure that appropriate knowledge and
technologies are disseminated to target beneﬁciaries quickly and eﬃciently.
Developing high-tech agropreneurs by investing in education and skills
Agriculture’s transformation rests on the availability and accessibility of advanced tech-
nologies and on countries’capacity to develop human resources. Both more of and
easier access to technologies should enable education, associated competencies, train-
ing, and skills that will increase employment, productivity, and income, and support
transformation. The role of agricultural education and skills development should thus be
examined to develop a new breed of high-tech agropreneurs.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH 47
Over the past 50 years, agricultural education and skills development programs have
played a consistent albeit limited role in agricultural development and economic growth in
developing countries (Jones, n.d.).
Better access to primary and secondary education, urbanization, and international
markets, however, has shifted employment demands in various areas of agriculture and
associated sectors. Vocational programs can be secondary or postsecondary in nature, and
can focus on direct training for farmers and farm laborers. The role of higher education in
agriculture is also increasingly important. National governments, private sectors, and
donor communities should review the current state of agricultural education and skills
development systems and approaches and strengthen their relevance in workforce devel-
opment and in enhancing agricultural value chains based on lessons and insights drawn.
Reformed agricultural education and skills development systems are functional,
responsive to emerging challenges, gender-sensitive, and ﬂexible. The systems should
enhance qualiﬁcations and competencies for better employability in agricultural value
chains, as well as technical and business skills and capacities that will meet emerging
public and private sector needs. The systems should strengthen the roles and contribu-
tion of female labor in high-technology agricultural production, processing, and trade
through skills development. This is particularly important when male agricultural work-
ers seek better paying nonfarm employment. In addition, the systems can oﬀer short,
ﬂexible, convenient, and mobile skills enhancement programs to agricultural workers
who may seek continuous education and training while working full time.
In addition, innovative, customized, and interactive training using modern technology
will help build the skills, encourage participation, and enhance the productivity of
elderly farmers and laborers in knowledge-intensive agriculture. Agricultural education
and skills development systems can also design or upgrade existing job-matching
services that pair candidates (elderly ones included) with appropriate jobs (Ra, Chin, &
Increasing government investments
Nonetheless, government expenditure on education, as a percentage of gross domestic
product (GDP), has stagnated in some Asian countries (ADB, 2018c; Dewan & Sarkar,
2017). While Paciﬁc countries tend to invest a higher percentage of GDP in education,
Asian countries such as Armenia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, have invested
less than 3% of GDP since 2000 (Table 2). In other Asian countries, such as Mongolia,
investment shares of GDP dropped in recent years and in other Asian countries educa-
tion expenditure has been volatile. For instance, India reduced public spending on
education in relative terms from 3.2% in 2000 to 1.9% in 2010, but increased it to
4.6% of GDP in 2016 (ADB, 2018c).
Looking more closely, however, government expenditure on secondary and postse-
condary nontertiary vocational education as a percentage of total government spending
appears to be extremely low across South Asia. Policymakers ought to realize that while
universal quality foundational education is a priority, speciﬁc trade-related vocational
training can oﬀer young people an opportunity to cultivate capacities that will help
build their employability. Quality vocational training needs to be promoted so that
48 S. RA ET AL.
communities can recognize that they provide a more sustainable alternative to leaving
school early and entering the formal and informal labor market in the long run.
Government investments will be important in upgrading the quality of technical tea-
chers, which in turn will boost the quality of education and skills development (ADB, 2017).
Education and skills development systems should move from a supply-oriented to a more
market-demand-oriented training system that is relevant and responsive to changing
market demand. Innovations such as competency-based training and vocational qualiﬁca-
tion frameworks can help establish appropriate quality standards in the workplace.
Harnessing public–private partnerships
The importance and role of partnership among stakeholders is increasingly being
recognized in knowledge-intensive agriculture. The most common form is public–private
partnership (PPP), which broadly refers to ‘any research collaboration between public-
and private-sector entities in which partners jointly plan and execute activities with
a view to accomplishing agreed-upon objectives while sharing the costs, risks, and
beneﬁts incurred in the process’(Spielman, Hartwich, & von Grebmer, 2010, p. 1). PPPs
can play a role in addressing technical, ﬁnancial, and other constraints in developing,
promoting, and practicing knowledge-intensive agriculture. These partnerships range
from simple procurement (public sector engages private entity to provide a service or
construct an asset) to full-blown collaboration, where the private partners engage in
asset operation, service delivery, and uptake of new technologies.
With respect to agricultural education and skills development, partnership with the
private sector can help ensure that trainees (farmers, farm laborers, and/or the general
farming community) are equipped with the practical know-how and skills required by
knowledge-intensive agriculture. Farmers and agropreneurs can use more of the new
agricultural knowledge from formal education systems (universities and research institu-
tions) if theory and practice are linked more strongly. Because many rural dwellers can
neither aﬀord to attend university nor access research institutions, PPPs can help harness
Table 2. Government expenditure on education as proportion of gross domestic product, selected
Asian countries, 2000–2017
2000 2010 2017
China, People’s Republic of 3.3 (2002) 3.0 3.7
Japan 3.7 2.9 2.7 (2016)
Korea, Republic of 3.1 3.0 3.3 (2016)
Bangladesh 2.0 2.0 2.5
3.2 1.9 4.6 (2016)
2.4 3.9 4.2
Sri Lanka 2.4 1.6 1.9
Cambodia 1.3 1.6 2.3
Malaysia 5.6 6.1 4.5
Philippines 3.3 2.5 4.4
Thailand 3.8 3.0 3.0 (2016)
Data refer to expenditure of the central government, except for Bangladesh, where data refer to the consolidated
expenditure of central and local governments.
Data are based on ﬁscal year beginning 1 April.
Data are based on ﬁscal year ending 15 July.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH 49
the best scientiﬁc knowledge and technical breakthroughs, disseminate agricultural
technologies for adoption, and strengthen academe–industry partnership across the
entire agriculture value chain (Ra et al., 2015). And as an ultimate beneﬁciary, the private
sector can play an active role in the agricultural education and skills development
systems by oﬀering courses and assist in government decision-making to make agricul-
tural education and skills development systems more relevant and responsive to market
needs (Song, 2016).
In South Asia, for example, while each actively plays its role in skills development,
governments and private institutions must work together in expanding capacity to
provide training to the growing workforce, enhancing the quality of workers and their
skills to match demand, and harnessing quality employment for diﬀerent skills levels
(ADB, 2017). These will bridge the information gap and facilitate knowledge transfer in
the practice of knowledge-intensive agriculture.
Enhancing the policy environment
Governments also have to work with other sector stakeholders to provide and maintain
a conducive policy environment. Overall, education and skills development systems
ought to be integrated into countries’broader agricultural development strategy. The
links between relevant institutions (government, training systems, local institutions, and
donors) need to be established to support sector development priorities, including
timely response to structural transformation, reducing rural unemployment or under-
employment rates, and increasing the productivity of rural labor (ADB, 2017).
Governments must pursue education reform and promote lifelong learning (ADB,
2018a). They should encourage and provide schools with incentives to strengthen
foundational and other skills that enable individuals to learn and relearn. Universities
and vocational training institutions will play signiﬁcant roles in imparting the specialized
skills needed to work with new technologies to increase the number of agropreneurs,
both new graduates and ‘re-learners’.
Lastly, governments can shift the role of skills training to the private sector, but
continue to provide it where private options are either expensive or not available, such
as in remote geographical areas (ADB, 2017). Governments should also actively provide
the public with information about current and future labor market requirements, train-
ing programs, and the performance of the public education system.
Conclusions and recommendations
Asian developing countries need to invest in education and skills development to develop
entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector, so called high-tech agropreneurs. Productivity
in the sector in the last few decades has progressed, but another quantum leap in food
production is necessary and inevitable given pending demographic changes.
Demand for food in the region is expected to increase in both quantity and quality as
populations grow and move to the cities, incomes rise, and dietary preferences change.
Indeed, by 2050, food demand is expected to be 60%–70% higher than 2005–2007
baseline. Asia’s farmers should move away from traditional input driven agriculture into
knowledge-intensive agriculture if they are to meet demand.
50 S. RA ET AL.
The time to revamp agricultural education and skills development is therefore now.
Advanced knowledge and higher technologies will need to be increasingly accessible to
millions of smallholder farmers. For this, modern agricultural education and skills devel-
opment will be required. Universities can strengthen curriculums, institutional capacity,
and their links with industry to support young, high-tech agropreneurs. Agricultural
extension services can also transform existing agricultural workforces into agropreneurs
by embracing e-learning to absorb knowledge and technologies available under
Industry 4.0. Agricultural education and skills development should be reformed into
a functional, gender-sensitive, and ﬂexible system that is responsive to newer
This transformation requires government investment, public-private partnership, and
an enabling policy environment. And government spending on education and skills
development needs to be increased in Asian countries to revamp agricultural education
and skills development. The increased budget needs to be spent for modernizing
curriculums, pedagogies and laboratories, recruiting and developing quality teachers,
and conducting industry relevant research. Public-private partnerships in agricultural
education and skills development can, especially when implemented under a country’s
broader agricultural development strategy, be instrumental in developing high-tech
Moving forward, key recommendations are:
●Agriculture’s transformation rests on availability and accessibility of advanced
technologies and on human resources development. Agricultural education and
skills development systems should be examined to develop a new breed of high-
tech agropreneurs. This transformation requires the systems to be integrated into
broader agricultural development strategy.
●National governments, private sectors, and donor communities should review agricul-
tural education and skills development systems to strengthen relevance in workforce
development and agricultural value chains. Partnership with the private sector can
help ensure trainees are equipped with the practical know-how and skills required by
knowledge-intensive agriculture. The PPPs can help address technical, ﬁnancial, and
other constraints in developing, promoting, and practicing knowledge-intensive
●Agricultural education and skills development systems can oﬀer short, ﬂexible,
convenient, and mobile skills enhancement programs to agricultural workers
who may seek continuous education and skills development while working full
time. In particular, the systems can strengthen the roles and contribution of
female labor in high-technology agricultural production, processing, and trade
through skills development.
●Agricultural education and skills development should move from a supply-oriented
to a more market-demand-oriented training system. Innovations such as compe-
tency-based training and vocational qualiﬁcation frameworks can help establish
appropriate quality standards. Innovative, customized, and interactive training
using modern technology will also help build the skills, encourage participation,
and enhance the productivity of elderly farmers through lifelong learning.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TRAINING RESEARCH 51
We duly acknowledge assistance and comments by Roberta Gerpacio (consultant, ADB) and
Ryotaro Hayashi (Social Sector Economist, ADB) in preparing the manuscript.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Dr. Sungsup Ra is the Director of South Asia Human and Social Development Division and Chair of
the Education Sector Group at Asian Development Bank.
Mahfuzuddin Ahmed is a retired Technical Adviser in the Agriculture, Rural Development, and
Food Security Unit in the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department at Asian
Development Bank, Manila, Philippines.
Paul S. Teng is the Managing Director and Dean of the National Institute of Education
International in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
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