Training the trainers: Dirk Maier lends expertise to Tunisian feed manufacturing education

Picture of Dirk MaierThe past few years, the United States has looked to diversify the export market for U.S. commodities beyond China’s feed and oilseed processing market. In 2018, after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) initiated the idea to implement a Training Center for Feed Manufacturing project in Tunisia.

Dirk Maier, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, received a subcontract from the USGC to partner in establishing the Center as a collaborative effort with Iowa State University and the Northern Crops Institute (NCI) in Fargo, North Dakota.

The goal of the project has been to provide training for future trainers of the Center, develop an online and hands-on training curriculum for the Center, and identify the feed manufacturing and feed analysis equipment for hands-on training in the Center.

“Expanding the international presence for U.S. commodities in Africa and the Middle East lessens our dependence on China and directly benefits Iowa and U.S. corn and soybean farmers,” said Maier.

Tucked between Libya and Algeria, Tunisia presents a new opportunity for growing the feed industry in that region, the Middle East and into South Asia. With most of the population practicing Islam, nutritional feed needs and manufacturing practices focus on dairy, poultry, turkey, goats, sheep and aquaculture.

“We are working in a different cultural context and with different feed rations,” said Maier. “It’s very important that we travel frequently to Tunisia and the region to understand the people, the culture and what their feed industry needs to be successful.”

During his first visit to Tunisia in the fall of 2017, Maier helped identify a suitable partner institution and location for the training center. The National Institute for Agriculture (INAT) in Tunis made a building space available that has since been extensively renovated. Equipment was installed in early 2019 which Maier inspected and started up with his colleague from NCI, Kim Koch.

The Tunisian feed industry committed to support the Center by making key employees available as trainers. The first group of 12 industry professionals was trained at ISU and NCI in July 2018 with a focus on dairy. The second group of industry professionals was trained this summer with a focus on poultry and turkey.

The first group of trainers were the first to check out the online content of the training program. Based on their feedback, content was refined and then translated into French and narrated by one of the INAT professors of animal science.

The first group of 50 Tunisian feed industry employees went through the online training in early 2019 using the Iowa State Canvas platform. They had to pass the online course on the basics of feed manufacturing with at least 80% before they were allowed to participate in the first group hands-on training in the new Center.

“The online learning content is what sets us apart,” said Maier. “The online teaching platform provides the base knowledge every trainee is expected to know before they can come to hands-on training. This two-step approach improves adult learning and provides a common starting point for the experts in the training center.”

One challenge that faced Maier and his team revolved around translating these complex topics into French and Arabic. While 75% of the trainees understand English, adapting the online learning to French was crucial in developing the program. Maier works with three graduate students who originate from French-speaking African countries to help overcome the language barrier and facilitate teaching of the courses.

The first batch of trainees successfully completed the first hands-on training offered in April. Maier and Koch were pleased with how well the Tunisian colleagues and trainers did applying what they have learned about teaching adult learners in the classroom, quality analysis laboratory and pilot plant.

The second batch of 50 trainees is going through hands-on training in Tunisia now, and the third batch just started the online course. Later in 2019, the first group of industry professionals from outside of Tunisia will be trained in the Center. Maier and his team are busy working with their INAT colleagues on translating the online course into Arabic in preparation.

“Our international outreach and engagement brings real world experience to our faculty and students, and promotes Iowa State and the state of Iowa as a leader in modern animal production and feed manufacturing practices,” said Maier.