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31 Jul, 2018


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DR KAONDA: Students should have good learning environment
The infrastructure and food processing projects being implemented at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), will help to widen access to education by providing a more conducive learning and teaching environment as well create more food manufacturing companies in the country.

The University Registrar of LUANAR, Dr. Philip Kaonda, said the infrastructure development being implemented by the university will build the capacity of the new University which was established by the Act of 2011 and became operational in 2012.

He mentioned that the University is constructing administration block, hostels, Open Distance Learning (ODL) Hub and campus and a teaching complex which includes, lecture theatres, laboratories and classrooms.

“Infrastructure is key to attain quality education. Students should have good learning environment. This is why we have projects such as laboratory construction, classrooms and hostels. The Infrastructure embarked at this university will help much needed quality teaching and learning.” Dr Kaonda said adding that the expansion projects at its Bunda, Natural Resources College campuses and in the city of Lilongwe aim to widen the University’s outreach.

He said some of the construction projects including the teaching complex are being funded by the government of Malawi and other cooperating partners and are expected to be completed by June next year.

He also mentioned that through Capacity Building for Managing Climate Change in Malawi (CABMACC) project, sponsored by Norwegian government, they have built a 212 bed capacity female hostel and using its own resources, the University also built a 200 bed hostel.

“With support from World Bank on skills development project, we are building ODL campus in Area 47 in the city of Lilongwe and also ODL Hub here at Bunda campus. The ODL campus being constructed in Area 47 will also see the transfer of the city campus operating from all the rented premises to this building. The idea to establish the city campus is to take the university to the people and was part of growth plans.

Among other projects, he also mentioned that the Bunda campus is also constructing a multipurpose hall with a capacity of 5000 students with support from Petroleum Importers Limited, CDH Bank, FDH Bank and South African High Commission. He said the multipurpose hall will replace the marquee which was being used for teaching and learning and will be ready in the next academic year.

“We also have plans to construct a new library. We already have assurance from Government and Chancellor of the University Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika. Once teaching complex is done we expect to have the library,” he said.

At the NRC campus, the university in partnership with Old Mutual intends to construct 5000 capacity hostels.

The widening access to tertiary education and the provision of infrastructure as a prerequisite for quality education is outlined university’s 2012-2017 Strategic Plan, says Dr. Joshua Valeta, LUANAR ODL Coordinator.

He said, through the Skills Development project, the ODL program, which began in 2016 has so far registered over 1500 students through its two intakes per year.

The program centres in Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu, currently runs four programs, namely; Agribusiness Management, Agriculture Economics, Agriculture Extension and Agriculture Innovation as well as an online library and computer labs.

The ODL campus in Area 47 in Lilongwe is expected to be the headquarters for ODL program.

“We are constructing the Hub, which will allow us to have studios to record lectures and upload it on My LUANAR or beam it live to all three centres so that students can actually interact with their lectures. That will also be another way of strengthen quality and enable students have access to good education.

The National Education Plan acknowledges ODL programs to be necessary as they absorb student who fail to make it to the tertiary level because of capacity constraints. Every year, about 20,000 students qualify for university education but the universities only has space for up to 4000.

He said at the moment ODL program at LUANAR takes an extra 700 students per year of the normal intake. Once its expansion projects are completed it will enrol over 5000 students per year.

“By 2020 ODL alone should be enrolling about 5000 students a year.”

He also mentioned that other students from other countries are applying into the ODL program of the LUANAR.

“At the moment, there is an institution from Zambia, that wants to deliver our ODL programs in their college. They are looking at agribusiness and agriculture extension.”

Among others, LUANAR is establishing partnership with the Open University of USA and is in discussion with Arizona State University to expand ODL program to rural areas.

“We are trying to be open access to those who would otherwise not make it to University particularly those in rural areas students who in most cases fail to make it to university because they lack science laboratories in their schools.”

ODL program at LUANAR is flexible because it allows multiple entry and exists and offers Certificates, Diploma and Degree.

Dr. Limbikani Matumba, LUANAR Director of Research and Outreach, says the University is making number of efforts in promoting the industrialisation in the country through enhancement of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) capacity to add value to farm produce.

As experts in food technology, the NRC felt that they can help in providing innovative solutions to the utilisation of produce away from mere consumption and from the concentration in the hands of smallholder farmers.

He said through Feed the Future’s Agriculture Diversity project (AGRITIVE) they felt that they could operate as a hub for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) saying they transfer their research and food technology skills to farmers to produce Soy milk and yoghurt.

“We provide a model for our graduates to create jobs and again transfer skills to SME’s to build capacity in the producing of high quality soy products such as milk and yoghurt which have been successfully implemented,” he said.

Dr. Matumba stressed that before came in with the project SME’s were facing a lot of challenges like hygiene and storage where their products could only be kept for four days and thereafter spoilt which was leading to a lot of losses to the farmers.

But with the project they managed to improve hygiene and storage capacity where the products could be stored for eight days without being spoiled thereby maximising the SME’s profits.

He said, they developed a model that would give a practical Soy Cup from the Feed the Future so that they can do things differently while strengthening the research capacity.

“We, in Malawi have a problem in the sense that we don’t have enough cows at the moment that can supply milk. And we know that elsewhere, Soy can be utilised to provide nutrients what could be supplied by cow milk and even more superior and with more health benefits than cow milk,” said Dr. Matumba.

He also said that one of the challenges they are facing as a project at NRC campus is that they are currently using the Home Economics Laboratory where students come in for their studies arguing that this may delay the certification from the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) which would ordinarily hasten the products penetrate the market and building competitiveness of the SME’s in soy technology.

The hub also acts as an incubation centre for the graduates who ordinarily look for white collar jobs instead of them being entrepreneur oriented by creating their own agri-businesses which can help in the socio-economic status of the country at large.