Summary: Gosbert Shausi is an iAGRI-sponsored doctoral scholar at Ohio State University in the Department of Agricultural Extension Education. Gosbert’s PhD research investigates the bureaucratic structure of Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security Cooperatives in order to determine how that structure enables or impedes extension services. Ultimately, Gosbert hopes that his findings can inform future structural changes so that Tanzanian farmers and extension officers can improve their productivity and effectiveness.
Sponsor: iAGRI is funded by USAID within its Feed the Future initiative and implemented by the Ohio State University Consortium (Ohio State University – lead institution, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Tuskegee University, University of Florida, and Virginia Tech). Primary institutional stakeholders in Tanzania are Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Cooperatives.
Organizational engineering: improving Tanzania’s extension service through better administration
Gosbert Shausi’s earliest career ambition was to become an engineer. At the time, he had never met an engineer, didn’t know what they actually did, and couldn’t articulate why he admired the profession. But to Gosbert, a boy growing up with nine siblings on a smallholder farm in western Tanzania, becoming an engineer represented status, education, and a life beyond the farm.
“Maybe it was because I was growing up in a rural area,” recalls Gosbert, “but to my family, an engineer was a highly respected profession. We believed that engineers had good jobs and lived very good lives.”
Despite desiring something different, Gosbert remembers his youth spent toiling in his family’s banana, maize, cassava, yam and sweet potato fields with nostalgia.
“Since farming was what everyone did, it was a way of life,” says Gosbert. Sometimes when we went to the farm we carried food. At about mid-morning, the kids got to eat and I always looked forward to that.”
Though he long ago relinquished his dream of becoming an engineer, Gosbert never gave up his desire to be a highly-educated professional. As a result, the 42-year-old iAGRI scholar is now literally half a world removed from his family farm, pursuing a PhD in agricultural and extension education at Ohio State University. His research focuses on organizational structure, specifically the administrative effectiveness of Tanzania’s agricultural extension service. He aims to identify structural challenges that make it more difficult for extension personnel to carry out their duties. Eventually, Gosbert hopes his research will guide the reorganization of extension administration to better serve Tanzania’s farmers and extension officers and, in the long run, improve the country’s agricultural productivity.
Academics always appealed to Gosbert, who attended several specialty and advanced schools where instructors taught lessons in novel ways.
“I liked math in school because I was good at it and one teacher used very interesting methods,” recalls Gosbert. “I remember enjoying classes where we would cut branches from trees to help us count or we would draw out problems to solve on the ground.”
Gosbert was particularly interested in science and excelled in physics, chemistry and biology. After secondary school, he earned a diploma in education and taught science at a government school from 1999 until 2004.
“Personally, I liked teaching because I saw my students learning,” says Gosbert. “However, the teaching environment in Tanzania is not encouraging because teachers are not well paid and the infrastructure is poor. For example, I taught science and we didn’t have adequate labs or equipment to use.”
Eventually, the low salary and poor teaching environment prompted Gosbert to leave the profession and take out loans to pursue his bachelor’s degree at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA).
“My first choice was agricultural economics but I didn’t get accepted to that field. My brother advised me to consider agricultural education and extension because I already had a background in education. I applied for that and was accepted.”
Gosbert excelled at SUA, and his academic achievement let to a position as an agricultural officer at Tanzania’s Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA) after graduation. He served in a managerial role, acquiring valuable skills such as teamwork and collaboration as he assured the organization was producing enough seeds to satisfy their clients’ needs.
Although he enjoyed his position with ASA, earning his bachelor’s degree had renewed Gosbert’s taste for education and advancement. Before long he was again searching for opportunities to return to school.
“The following year SUA advertised teaching positions and I saw one posted for a tutorial assistant,” says Gosbert. “At that time, I still wanted more degree training and education. I thought that the position would give me that opportunity. Thankfully, I was given the job.”
Gosbert fulfilled his one-year teaching obligation and then immediately began a master’s program in agricultural education and extension. Once he entered the program his interests narrowed on food security, prompting a master’s thesis that studied how farmers’ perceptions of food security compared with internationally recognized standards. The results of his study fascinated him and the practice of data collection, interviewing and working closely with smallholder farmers proved unexpectedly enjoyable.
A smallholder farmer, who iAGRI-sponsored PhD student, Gosbert Shausi, interviewed for his research, stands next to bags of her stores of harvested and dried grains. “It was fascinating to learn how different local perceptions of food security were,” claims Gosbert. “For example, the international standard of recommended number of meals per day is meaningless to most smallholder farmers. Many of them stay in the fields working all day and they eat only one meal a day. That didn’t mean that they didn’t have enough food to eat, just that the idea of needing to eat a certain amount of meals per day was meaningless to their routine.”
Upon completing his master’s degree, Gosbert immediately sought opportunities to begin a PhD.
“The only thing I was thinking about after earning my master’s was how I could get a PhD,” recalls Gosbert. “I saw iAGRI on the SUA website, and I knew I had to apply. I thought that the competition was very high, so I was very nervous.”
Gosbert was accepted to iAGRI and then admitted to Ohio State University in the United States, where he’d pursue a PhD in agricultural and extension education. However, the joy and excitement that Gosbert felt about his acceptance was not initially shared by family, including his wife, three children and two other dependents.
“The excitement was less for my family,” says Gosbert. “We had to sit down and I explained that if we wanted the best life possible, that I would need to do this. I told them that I would still be in touch, that we could Skype regularly, and that it would be worthwhile for our future. After that, they became supportive of my decision to study abroad.”
Upon setting out for the States, Gosbert’s only knowledge about Ohio came from a recently-returned iAGRI scholar who warned him about cold weather. As it turned out, the climate would be the easiest of Gosbert’s adjustments. Learning how to navigate campus, getting accustomed to the University’s reliance on online materials, and adjusting to a variety of cultural and language barriers were larger obstacles.
“At Ohio State, everything is announced online and nobody tells you where to go,” explains Gosbert. “I was just given a map when I arrived and was on my own. I missed a few classes initially because of that. In Tanzania, we’re typically not given as much work as we are in the US. English accents are also difficult. I had to pay close attention to people’s mouths when they spoke. That required that I pay much more attention in class to the lecturers because if I missed something that they said, I could miss critical information.”
In time, Gosbert overcame all of the impediments and began to focus on his PhD research, which is founded upon baseline data he collected in 2013.
“I went out and created a baseline investigating how extension is performing and how farmers in Kilosa interact with extension officers,” says Gosbert. “That gave me a picture of how extension currently works in rural areas. From that, I intend to examine extension administration at the national, regional and district levels in hopes of drawing some conclusions that could potentially aid policy makers in strengthening administration and management so that extension can become more effective.”
Gosbert’s surveys revealed that extension officers in Tanzania view organizational structure as a major challenge to their work.
“My baseline survey asked extension personnel what they felt some of the challenges of their job were. In Tanzania, the extension work takes place under several levels of Ministries, where ministers are in different organizations than the people under them. I’m interested in knowing what the challenges of such a system are, what are the prospects, and what can we do about it.”
Gosbert intends to return to Tanzania in 2014 to interview upper level extension administrators. Until then, he’ll continue to work closely with his academic advisor in Ohio, Dr. Robert Agunga, to prepare for the next phase of research.
“Dr. Agunga has been a good friend and advisor,” says Gosbert. “He has welcomed me to his home, he came to visit me in Tanzania and he has a lot of experience studying extension work throughout Africa. He knows about the history and what has worked and has not worked, so his advisement has been especially valuable in helping me understand what the background context of my study should be.”
Adapting his survey to Tanzania’s administrative structure will take additional work and planning upon Gosbert’s return. Dr. Flavianus Magayane, an expert in Tanzania’s extension service and Gosbert’s local supervisor at SUA, will guide him through the next phase of his research.
“Flavianus will advise me based on his Tanzanian extension experience, which will help me focus my research,” says Gosbert in anticipation of his return to Tanzania.
In addition to relying on the expertise of his academic advisors, Gosbert takes advantage of training and networking opportunities that iAGRI provides to its scholarship recipients.
“I’m involved in iAGRI’s leadership webinar series, which has been enjoyable and has provided me with valuable leadership skills,” claims Gosbert. “I’m about to present at a conference in Miami, Florida and iAGRI is funding the trip. They’ve given me this opportunity to receive one of the best educations in the world at Ohio State, and they’ve seemed committed to maintaining the connection between scholars and their profession beyond the degree I’ll earn, which will be very valuable to my career.”
As he thaws out from a long winter in America’s Midwest, Gosbert remains connected to the ambitions and dreams that inspired him more than thirty years ago living in the tropics of western Tanzania. Although he hasn’t become an engineer in the traditional sense, he is using his skills and intelligence to inform the reengineering of Tanzania’s extension service so it can more effectively help farmers improve their lives and practice.
If you would like additional information on Gosbert Shausi’s research or the opportunity to sponsor her research further, please contact us.
All images by Molly Kraybill and story written by iAGRI photographer and writer Tyler Jones.