Building African Food Security One Student at a Time

Nov. 24, 2014

This article was originally published on the website of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Since 2011, 20 graduate students from Tanzania have become Buckeyes as part of an extensive effort to provide long-term food security in the East African nation.

Through the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), led by Ohio State University’s Office of International Programs in Agriculture, a total of 135 Tanzanian graduate students are receiving advanced agricultural training at universities in the United States, Africa and India to build a new generation of Tanzanian agricultural scholars.
 
The initiative is part of the U.S. government’s primary global hunger and food security program, Feed the Future, and is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (See more about iAGRI at go.osu.edu/iagri2014).
 
According to the African Development Bank, 75 percent of Tanzania’s citizens make their living in the agricultural sector, mainly through small-scale farming. Additionally, the organization said, with an increasingly growing urban population and key strategies identified for agricultural modernization and growth, the country is poised for major advances in its agricultural sector.  
 
The project’s leadership says that with 128 graduate students enrolled in the program to date, iAGRI has already made a significant impact on the lives of Tanzanian agricultural students..Through iAGRI, more than half of the program’s participants have spent a year on a full scholarship at Ohio State or one of the initiative’s five partner universities in the U.S. The other half have studied at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Punjab Agricultural University in India, or at other participating universities in East and Southern Africa.
 
Boniface Massawe, a doctoral candidate in the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, started his studies at Ohio State in 2012, focusing on soil science. He said he hopes his research in soil mapping of Tanzania’s Kilombero Valley will help policymakers in his home country unearth new crop potential.
 
“The Kilombero Valley is one of the largest seasonal wetlands in East Africa, and the Tanzanian government, with technical and financial support from USAID, has targeted the valley for increased rice production to reduce food insecurity,” Massawe said. “My research aims to contribute to the evidence-based knowledge needed to make informed decisions on land resource usability as well as sustainability for rice crop production in the valley.”
 
Massawe’s work has been recognized by the Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP), which awards fellowships to outstanding graduate students who show promise as leaders in the field of agriculture and related disciplines. As a LEAP fellow, Massawe was selected to attend the prestigious 2014 World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, in October, where he participated in the Borlaug Dialog international symposium.
 
Emmanuel Mgonja, a doctoral student in plant pathology at Ohio State is also an iAGRI scholar. In his home country of Tanzania, Mgonja became familiar with the iAGRI program through his affiliation with the Ministry of Agriculture as a research scientist in the country. When deciding to pursue a doctoral degree, he said he found that the iAGRI program was a great fit.
 
 
 
“I am studying rice blast -- this is one of the important rice diseases in Tanzania -- to see if we can evolve new varieties of rice that can be resistant to the rice blast disease.” Mgonja said. “One of the important crops for food security (in Tanzania) is rice.”
 
Another iAGRI student at Ohio State, Privata Chiwindo, is a first-year master’s student studying agricultural economics at Ohio State during the 2014-15 academic year.
 
“My country depends so much on agriculture,” Chiwindo said. “I want to contribute to the growth of our nation, and I know that I can make an impact through agriculture.”
 
For her graduate research in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, Chiwindo is particularly interested in studying the mango, a product that is abundant in Tanzania but which is yet to play a large role in the country’s food economy.
 
In this fruit Chiwindo said she sees great potential.
 
“I want to better understand the value chain of mangoes from a global lens, but also by examining the potential for production growth in Tanzania,” she said.
 
As a female Tanzanian agriculturalist, Chiwindo plays an important role in the future of agriculture in her home country.
 
With more than 80 percent of the Tanzanian agricultural sector comprised of women, iAGRI actively recruits female participants, seeking to promote women in the growth of the agricultural industry in the country. The iAGRI program has formulated a gender development plan and a gender policy implementation committee in its dedication to this task.
 
In iAGRI, “there is a real focus on educating women to be change-makers in the agricultural sector in Tanzania,” Chiwindo said. “In my country, they say that if you help a woman, you help the entire country.”
 
Massawe said that the dual nature of the initiative -- with research affiliations in Tanzania and the U.S. -- has proven to be beneficial.
 
“iAGRI requires us to work with two advisers, one from the U.S. and another from a local institution in Tanzania,” Massawe said. “This has enabled me to gain extensive knowledge and experience from advisers from two very different settings.”
 
To learn more about iAGRI, see iagri.org or cfaes.osu.edu/international.
 
Photo caption:  Boniface Massawe analyzes soil samples at the soil sciences laboratory at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. Massawe is a doctoral student at Ohio State University.
 
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WRITER(S): 
Nicole Pierron Rasul
614-688-1323
 
SOURCE(S): 
Boniface Massawe
 
Emmanuel Mgonja
 
Privata Chiwindo