Photo: Erich Ferdinand on Flickr

Thanks to Norway-led programme, Western Balkan countries have strengthened their academic cooperation in the field of agriculture, but also shifted to more applied research projects with links to business.

As it usually goes with university-focused programmes, they do not draw big attention outside the academic community. But HERD programme is somewhat different. It contains a number of dimensions and “lessons learned” relevant beyond university walls and to the benefit of all countries and societies involved.

With the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 13 different HERD projects in the agriculture sector (Edufood, Mineral improved crop production, pastureland/grazing…) have completed successfully. They comprised the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and agriculture faculties in the Western Balkans.

The education in the field of agriculture in the Western Balkans has been estimated to be more theoretical. As a result, the students graduating are not equipped with sufficient knowledge to cope with the current conditions in the field.

Within the HERD programme, the Western Balkans universities have started applying new approaches to effective learning and doing more applied researches. Most of them are joint research projects with neighbouring countries.

Also, there has been little contact between the faculties and the business sector in the Western Balkan countries. The NMBU has initiated establishing links between academia and business world by encouraging fieldwork and working with industry in developing research topics for a graduate degree. As a result, for example, laboratories for testing of taste and smell have paved a way for cooperation with industry in developing new food products etc.

On the other side, Norwegian institutions and society have also benefited from the programme in several ways. Research results in the field of agriculture are now being applied in Norway and Norwegian institutions have a richer and better network of partners in the region and exchange programmes. Norwegian students have tried and worked harder as Serbia was sending its best students to work with them on the exchange programme.

This is part of a larger HERD programme funding a total of 32 projects in five sectors across seven countries. It involves 26 Norwegian and nearly 100 Western Balkans partners with a total financing of about NOK 160 million. It lasted from 2010-2016.