This article was originally published on the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences' website on July 28, 2014
Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences was honored to host four distinguished international researchers recently through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program. The fellowships, which were awarded to and administered through the College’s Office of International Programs in Agriculture, were instrumental in not only providing these international researchers with knowledge and practical skillsets needed to advance their respective disciplines in their home countries, but also exposed the fellows’ faculty mentors at Ohio State to issues affecting agricultural researchers and professionals outside of the United States.
“This particular program provides another excellent opportunity for Ohio State and our faculty to build collaborative research linkages with strong agricultural scientists from around the world,” shared Dr. Mark Erbaugh, Director of the International Programs in Agriculture.
Of the latest cohort of Borlaug fellows who completed their 3 month fellowships at Ohio State between August, 2013 and July, 2014, 1 fellow was from Bangladesh, 1 from Tunisia, and 2 from Ghana.
Land Systems and Soil Quality in Ghana
During their Borlaug Fellowships, Kwame Frimpong of the University of Cape Coast and Emmanuel Amoakwah of the Soil Research Institute (CSIR) in Ghana worked in the areas of soil science and land systems, respectively. Dr. Warren Dick, Professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, served as Kwame’s advisor and is accustomed to mentoring many international fellows and students in his lab at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, OH. In Dr. Dick’s lab, Kwame examined how the use of biochar can improve soil quality, in addition to contributing to Dr. Dick’s continued research in the area of no-tillage systems. Conducting such research was especially valuable for Kwame given that Ohio State’s Triplett-Van Doren plots at OARDC are credited with being the longest continuously maintained no-till plots in the world.
Dr. Rafiq Islam, Research Scientist at Ohio State - South Centers Research Station in Piketon, OH, served as Emmanuel’s mentor and eagerly engaged him in a multitude of agricultural projects and events. The pair even traveled out to the World Food Prize last October, where Emmanuel delivered a presentation on agriculture in Ghana and the impacts of climate change on agricultural production.
“It was an astonishing experience, one that will remain an indelible memory of my time in the U.S.,” admits Emmanuel, who considered it a privilege to speak to an audience of renowned scientists and faculty members, not to mention other Borlaug fellows completing their fellowships at other U.S. universities.
Both Dr. Dick and Dr. Islam are currently planning a workshop in Ghana next May with Emmanuel and Kwame to provide training in the area of sustainable agriculture to Ghanaian students, researchers, and farmers.
Preserving Crop Biodiversity in Tunisia
Coming from an institution that was only founded in 2007, Mohamed Dridi was eager to come to Ohio State to work with faculty and researchers who have been involved in seed research for decades. His home institution, the National Gene Bank of Tunisia (NGBT), seeks to improve agriculture in Arab and African countries through the collection, identification, and conservation of more than 200,000 genetic samples (i.e. tissue, pollen, semen, etc.) of plant, animal, and microbial specimens. By studying and protecting these genetic resources, agricultural biotechnologists like Mohamed can promote genetic diversity that will ultimately have positive effects for plant breeding and overall crop improvement.
For his fellowship, Mohamed worked with Dr. Pablo Jourdan, Professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and Director of the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC) at Ohio State. During his time here, he became more proficient in methods of germplasm acquisition, documentation, characterization, and evaluation – skills that will not only strengthen his own potential, but will also allow him to effectively train his colleagues at the NGBT in these methods as well.
Mohamed was also fortunate enough to visit the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado – one of the world’s largest gene banks that sits on the campus of Colorado State University and is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.
Promoting Plant Health in Bangladesh
Despite the negative connotations that arise from hearing the word “bacteria”, there are many positive ways in which bacteria benefit agricultural production, and that is just what Mosofa Kamal of Bangladesh researched from April-June, 2014 in the lab of Dr. Brian McSpadden Gardener, Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology. At OARDC, Mostofa examined the genetic makeup of a variety of bacteria in an effort to identify types that could potentially suppress plant pathogens through biological processes, thereby lessening the dependence on conventional, chemical pesticides.
“Demand for biopesticides has continued to expand dramatically in the last five years,” says Mostofa. “Therefore, basic research into the diversity and activity of biocontrol microbes will continue to be needed.”
This need cannot be underscored enough as, according to Mostofa, farmers in Bangladesh and other developing countries have experienced yield losses up to 50% as a result of some crop diseases, compromising the countries’ food security and stifling economic growth.
Near the end of his fellowship, Mostofa was notified by his home institution – the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) – that he was being promoted to Senior Scientific Officer in Plant Pathology. Through this promotion he hopes to formulate effective responses to complex plant health issues, in addition to developing agri-food systems that are economically viable and that simultaneously promote environmental health.
The Legacy of Norman Borlaug
Norman E. Borlaug, the 20th century agronomist credited with saving millions in developing countries from starvation, fervently believed in the important role that applied research played in improving agricultural production in the developing world. Once famously stating that “There are no miracles in agricultural production”, Dr. Borlaug proposed that it was the work of dedicated scientists who collaborated to find practical agronomical solutions that ultimately put food into mouths of the world’s most hunger stricken populations.
There’s no doubt that the knowledge and skills that these four fellow’s acquired over their 3 month fellowship will immensely help them and their home institutions’ efforts of tackling the most pressing agricultural issues in developing regions. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences looks forward to continuing its participation in the USDA Borlaug Program and building upon the foundation of collaborative research that Norman Borlaug laid for all of us years ago.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Borlaug Fellowship Program is administered by the Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. The Office of International Programs in Agriculture, on behalf of The Ohio State University, works with faculty in a cooperative effort to administer Borlaug Fellowships that are granted to Ohio State University through a competitive process by program managers at USDA-FAS. For more information about how to become a potential faculty mentor in the Borlaug Program, please contact Beau Ingle at email@example.com or at 614-292-4221.