On Tuesday, August 8, the Rwanda Institute of Conservation Agriculture (RICA) advanced its first cohort of 75 students, ready to introduce innovations that modernise the agriculture sector in Rwanda and Africa at large. Over the past years, it has been a concern that 60 per cent of Africa’s population—the youth—shun away from the agriculture sector which remains a key contributor to the continent’s economic growth. The traditional practice of agriculture is inefficient in the face of adverse challenges, mainly climate change, which is why a modernised and technology-based agriculture system is necessary on a continent that is fighting against food insecurity. ALSO READ: Kagame tasks RICA graduates to find agricultural solutions for Africa’s economic At the graduation ceremony, Howard G. Buffett, an American philanthropist who established RICA in collaboration with the government in 2019, said: “Rwanda was the only partner on the continent that we could have selected.” The New Times looks at major factors that distinguish RICA in empowering and creating the next generation of crosscutting experts in the agriculture sector. Experiential learning model With a focus on conservation agriculture, RICA’s educational model promotes sustainable and profitable farming while preserving and improving the environment through experiential learning, said Jean Claude Kayisinga, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Development at RICA. “The institute is known for developing and promoting innovative farming techniques that emphasise soil health, water efficiency, and biodiversity conservation. These techniques could help farmers increase yields while reducing the negative environmental impacts of traditional farming practices.” The teaching model is delivered in six enterprises including dairy production, food processing and safety, farm mechanisation and irrigation systems, row and forage, poultry and swine, as well as vegetable and fruit crops. From entry, students are given a small farming plot where they practice their coursework to gain hands-on skills and follow it up throughout their academic years. Upon graduation, RICA students earn a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Agriculture in this three-year, accredited internationally recognised programme. ALSO READ: Rwanda bets on agriculture institute to drive up innovation Research and internships The institute also creates collaborative partnerships with universities, research institutions, and agricultural organisations for students to indulge in research related to conservation agriculture, with a focus on local conditions and challenges, and this contributes to the dissemination of valuable knowledge and practices. In addition to that, they are presented with a six-month internship experience in different high-profile companies involved in the agriculture value chain, so they get an accurate picture of gaps in the market and the solutions needed. Achieving gender parity in admission RICA admits 84 high school students through rigorous screening and considering their agriculture knowledge, leadership potential, entrepreneurship skills, and English proficiency. According to Kayisinga, the school makes consultations with the Higher Education Council to ensure alignment with entry requirements while adhering to a 50:50 gender policy. Sustainable infrastructure The state-of-the-art higher learning institution sits on a 1300-hectare landscape with eco-friendly building construction features from rammed earth walls and compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEBs). It has a solar power plant, potable water treatment plant, and wastewater treatment plant, from which clean effluent water is used to irrigate crops on campus. Creating employment To conduct all necessary operations, RICA has more than 100 faculty and staff, of which 85 per cent of the employees are Rwandan, and the rest hail from other countries in Africa, Europe, and the United States. While some live on campus, others commute from elsewhere with a shuttle that runs from Kigali daily.