Ferdous-e-Elahi: Enhancing Food Security in Bangladesh


The economy of Bangladesh is mostly dependent on agriculture, although other sectors contribute significantly to the economy as well, such as industry, skilled manpower, and services. I was born and raised in a village of Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Vast crop fields, water resources, and cultivation practices amazed me growing up. When I was young, I noticed so many diseases existed and insects present in the vegetable fields in my hometown, but I did not know what they were. During my postgraduate study in Plant Pathology, I came to know that there are several beneficial microorganisms in the soil that can help plants fight harmful pathogens and can increase growth and yield of crops. I was fascinated and soon realized for the first time that I needed to work with plant diseases and that it should be my profession. Now professionally, I am a plant pathologist at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and a 3rd year Ph.D. student of Dr. Sally Miller in the Department of Plant Pathology on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

Bangladesh’s staple food crop is rice. Although wheat was once considered the second largest source of carbohydrates, potato has since taken its place. In Asia, Bangladesh produces the second highest amount of potato after India. Every year, per person potato consumption in Bangladesh is 23kg. However, due to the presence of high humidity and moisture, different fungal, bacterial, and abiotic problems cause huge crop losses pre and post-harvest.

Soft rot, considered as one of the most serious bacterial diseases of potato in Bangladesh, heavily reduces potato yields to around 37% in commercial and private storages in Bangladesh. Growers are still struggling in different regions of the country to manage this disease both in the field and during storage. It is a seed borne disease and favorable moisture and temperature help for its development. Management of soft rot requires proper identification and due to the limitations of research facilities in Bangladesh, only morphological and biochemical studies have been relied on to identify soft rot pathogens.

My project focuses on the identification, molecular characterization, and management of soft rot of potato in Bangladesh. My research includes biochemical, biocontrol, and chemical management of soft rot both in the field and in storage facilities. First, I plan to conduct a survey to determine the distribution and impact of potato soft rot in Bangladesh, after which I will evaluate different commercial, local, and BARI potato cultivars resistance to soft rot bacteria. My research would not be possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for implementing the Feed the Future Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) Program, a project through which I am one of 10 supported Bangladeshi fellows. Without their logistic and financial support, my graduate program at Ohio State University would not be possible.

During my stay at the Ohio State University, I have had the chance to meet Amish growers, go to their fields, talk with them, and learn their cultivation and disease management practices. Their lifestyle, absent of modern technologies and conveniences, reminds me of our simple life back in Bangladesh. Last year I had another opportunity to give a talk to high school girls at Wiser Science Camp at the College of Wooster. I really enjoyed talking to them and sharing my experience as a plant pathologist from Bangladesh who is now studying in the USA. Those young girls were very enthusiastic in learning about plant pathology and international cultures. I was also able to volunteer at the 2015 Science of Agriculture Day 2015 on the OARDC campus. We demonstrated to the participating high school students how to grow crops and protect them from pathogens. I believe this program inspires our next generation to be plant pathologists, or at least to become plant lovers.

I have been lucky enough to visit several states in the United States. I am grateful to BHEARD for selecting me as a graduate student in their 1st cohort. I’ve attended twice the American Phytopathological Society annual conference in Minnesota and California, and had the chance to interact with many plant pathologists from around the world there. Last, but not least, this past year I was fortunate enough to attend the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa; BHEARD had selected some of their graduate students from different universities to attend based on their applications and criteria. This year’s World Food Prize laureate was Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC in Bangladesh. He is not only an inspiration for the Bangladeshi people, but also for the whole world. We are so proud of him and his contribution towards food security and poverty alleviation.

I also want to acknowledge my professor, Dr. Sally Miller, and my lab mates and friends who’ve supported me during my stay at OARDC’s campus at Ohio State University. I will try to keep contact with them after going back home so that we can continue to work together in the future for the betterment of Bangladesh as well as for the world. I will continue to share my knowledge with my colleagues at BARI. Before I came to the US, I was less confident, but now I know that we should and need to start contributing right now for the betterment of Bangladesh’s future. Still the number of potential female agricultural scientists in Bangladesh is fewer in comparison to the number of male scientists. We must go ahead with more confidence and responsibility. In addition, I am very glad that USAID is working to ensure food security in Bangladesh, providing high-quality agricultural inputs, and post-harvest infrastructure development. I am optimistic that together we will be able to provide sufficient, safe, nutritious food to 9 billion people by 2050.

Ferdous is a Ph.D. student spondered by the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) Program, a Feed the Future project led my Michigan State University that supports long-term training of agricultural researchers at the master’s and doctoral levels and links scientific and higher education communities in Feed the Future countries and the United States.