November 17, 2008

Borlaug Fellows learn new ways to address agriculture issues in their countries

By: Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575  
Contact(s): Mike McWhorter, 979-845-7697, gm-mcwhorter@tamu.edu  
COLLEGE STATION – A small group of promising young scientists from Africa and Central America now will be better able to resolve food security issues in their home countries thanks to the Borlaug Fellows Program, said program coordinators at Texas A&M University.

Recently, five women from agriculture-based institutions in Honduras, Uganda, Mozambuqie and Malawi completed fellowships at Texas A&M as Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows.

The fellows, who were placed at the university through its Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, spent approximately two months collaborating with scientists, researchers and other experts in their respective fields.

Under the guidance of a designated mentor, fellows were introduced to new research methods, state-of-the-art technology and scientific advances which could be applied in their own countries.

“I teach at the Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi,” said Liveness Banda, who did her fellowship at Texas A&M’s department of animal science. “Goats and sheep are very important in my country, so I wanted to learn more about livestock pregnancy and reproduction.”

Liveness also worked with Drs. Barbara Johnson and Louis Nuti and other faculty associated with the International Goat Center at Prairie View A&M University as part of her fellowship.

While at Texas A&M’s animal science department, Banda and Borlaug Fellow Laurinda Augusto, a member of the veterinary faculty at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, were shown how to artificially inseminate livestock and use ultrasound technology to diagnose pregnancy in goats.

“Before, I was only able to tell my students about artificial insemination,” she said. “Now I will be able to give them actual demonstrations on how to do it. And we’ll also be working on an educational outreach program on how to improve milk production in goats.”

Banda and Augusto completed their fellowship under Dr. Shawn Ramsey, sheep and goat scientist with Texas AgriLife Research, who served as their mentor.

“We work with the fellows to help them get the information and experience they need to learn more about what’s going on in their field of study so they can take that knowledge back, use it and share it with others,” Ramsey said.

Another Borlaug Fellow, Carla DoVale, completed her fellowship at the Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology, part of the Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement on the Texas A&M campus.

“I’ve been working with the seeds of the main food crops in Africa, including corn, rice and sorghum,” said DoVale, whose chosen field is molecular biology. “We’re extracting DNA so we can describe crop seeds at a molecular level, and we’re collecting these seeds and screening them for specific traits.”

DoVale, who works at the National Institute for Agricultural Research, said she hopes to develop a “seed bank” in Mozambique to serve as a repository for the seeds of crop varieties she has been working with, as well as other crop seeds to be identified.

“Carla wanted to learn our lab techniques so that when her country finally gets the technology and infrastructure it needs, she will already have the knowledge and know the methodology to implement what is needed,” said Dr. Patricia Klein, an associate professor at the institute who served as DoVale’s mentor.

Barbara Nakangu of Uganda, who works in that country’s International Union for the Conservation of Nature, completed her fellowship at Texas A&M’s department of agricultural economics under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Boadu.

“I learned about how to determine and explain the value of conservation to those who make policy in my country,” Nakangu said. “Now I’ll know how to do evaluation studies and how to write proposals so I can secure more money for conservation efforts in Uganda.”

Sofia Ortega of Honduras completed her fellowship at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, where she learned more about diagnostic techniques, including methods to determine reproductive diseases affecting cattle.

“The purpose of the Borlaug Fellows program is to help developing countries strengthen their agriculture through science and technology transfer,” said Mike McWhorter, international training coordinator for the Borlaug Institute. “We provide them with short-term scientific training and collaborative research opportunities with experts in their field of agriculture.”

For 2008, a total of 37 fellows were chosen from 18 developing countries and were placed at institutions throughout the U.S.

Host training institutions include U.S. land-grant institutions, non-profits, government agencies, private companies and international agricultural research centers. The program emphasizes developing countries, and prospective participants apply and are selected on the basis of eligibility, including country, field of study and academic or professional background.

McWhorter said more than 55 Borlaug Fellows have come to Texas A&M since the program began, representing the additional countries of Ghana, Cameroon, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

“Through the program, we try to offer access to training in a broad range of agriculture-related areas,” McWhorter said. “We help Borlaug Fellows find the types of science, research and academic experiences they need to make a real difference when they return home.”

McWhorter said Borlaug Fellows have collaborated with Texas A&M experts in the areas of horticultural science, soil and crop science, agricultural engineering, molecular biology, veterinary medicine and diagnostics, animal nutrition, agricultural economics, food safety and more.

“We’re already making preparations to welcome the new Borlaug fellows in the spring of next year,” he said. "There will be two from India, three from Tunisia, two from Serbia and three from Iraq."

The Borlaug Fellows Program was begun in March 2004 in honor of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution. The program is administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

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