My understanding and appreciation of our Technical Systems Management (TSM) program has grown considerably since I joined the ABE department in 1999. Originally called Agricultural Mechanization, this program evolved to provide a more visible and deliberate effort to bridge technology and business. Traditionally, people at colleges are able to gain in-depth education related to engineering and business, but education in the middle ground is potentially lacking. The value of our TSM program is demonstrated when our department often boasts 100% job placement for our graduating students.
In my travels to a number of developing countries and from my experience in my southern African home countries, I have not come across any university level educational programs similar to TSM. And yet, from my observations, such a program would be very beneficial. This viewpoint has been enforced recently as a result of my involvement in a USAID project, which targets appropriate scale mechanization in four developing countries to improve land and labor productivity in a sustainable manner.
An important aspect of this project is tertiary, or university level, capacity building. Providing local tertiary level students with an education that addresses the combination of technology and business would have a significant impact on the deployment of technologies within each developing country. Our team (engineers, economists, gender specialists, and one animal nutritionist) works to develop activities in each country that promote the investigation, development and deployment of technologies coupled with conservation agricultural practices. However, the important aspect of scaling up and out needs to be addressed. For this to happen, business models need to provide economic incentives and create sustainable enterprises for the envisioned technologies. In my mind this once again emphasizes the value of our TSM program both locally and globally. As Akinwumi Adesina, the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, said, “Farming needs to be a business.”
A recent publication of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers was designed to showcase and encourage opportunities in agricultural technology and systems management. This issue includes a description of the experience of one of our TSM graduates, Tim Rendall. Tim is project manager of the afore-mentioned USAID project. His TSM degree makes him ideally qualified to address the technology-business continuum in those developing countries, and his experience exemplifies the difference a TSM degree can make around the world.