The U of I, along with the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Development (MUCIA), got involved in the Agricultural Export for Rural Income (AERI) project in 2004 to impact low income farmers in the eight Upper Egypt governances. The goal of the project is a "train-the-trainer" concept, intended to increase the production and marketing of high value crops and livestock products to improve rural income and employment. There are three major areas of focus: capacity building, public-private partnership and biotech research all in Upper Egypt.
As a part of the project, MUCIA faculty are working to improve the employability of agricultural graduates in horticulture, animal sciences and agriculture economics to meet the skills required by the ag industry in Egypt. A skill gap analysis, done by 250 private sector employees and 1000 recent graduates, showed that nearly all graduates lacked management skills, communication skills, knowledge of the English language and computer skills. The UIUC academic advisors then conducted course workshops to assist in reforming curriculum at four Egyptian universities to meet these needs. The UIUC faculty are also assisting in developing external advisory committees at each of the four targeted universities to continue to be able to respond to market needs.
Faculty members at these Egyptian Universities are also being U.S.-trained to assist them in developing courses and utilize interactive teaching and learning methods. To-date, 45 faculty members have completed training programs at several U.S. universities. In addition, short courses at the Egyptian universities are providing similar information along with intensive English courses. More than 200 Egyptian faculty have attended these seminars.
To encourage trained faculty and researchers to take this information to small scale producers in Egypt, the AERI project organized technical working groups to support farmer organizations and assist in developing market research and technical training. More than 22 association members, extension workers and private sector specialists have been trained through this program. In addition, 25 impact grants have been funded to assist small-scale farmers in addressing technical problems in getting crops to market.
Finally a support program to provide focused support for applied biotechnology efforts in Egypt is underway. The $1 million project includes a research grant program, leadership study tours, professional biotechnology training and increased public awareness of biotechnology products.
The project ended in September 2007, but was extremely well-received in Egypt. More than 110 small horticultural and livestock business associations were organized, impacting more than 40,000 individuals.