International Student Blog

Winfrid Tamba: Creating a Better Tomorrow for Tanzania's Farmers By Improving Ag. Extension 

Entry made by Winfrid Tamba, August 30, 2016

My name is Winfrid Tamba, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural Education, Communication, and Leadership (ACEL) at The Ohio State University, funded through the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI). My studies focus on Agricultural and Extension Education, with a specialization in Community and Extension Education. Currently I’m working with the local government authority as an Agricultural Extension Agent in Masasi District Council, Tanzania. Coming to Ohio State for my graduate degree was not easy; however my determination of helping the community in which I am working motivated me to push hard to ensure the journey was successful.
I originally come from a farming family. My parents still grow food such as cashew nuts, maize, cassava, rice, sesame, sorghum, pigeon peas, and other horticultural crops. The farming is primary subsistence, and in most cases the harvest cannot suffice for a year, leading to food insecurity and poverty to most of the rural communities. Farmers face many challenges in terms of production, marketing, and environmental challenges. From my own perspective I would categorize the challenges to production in two ways. First, lack of specification: most of the farmers, including my parents, will grow almost every crop that seems to grow well in small fields. However, from a food security standpoint, small farms with every crop helps to spread risk so that when one crop fails others crops still remain for harvest. The other category of the production challenges is the deficiencies in extension education. In Tanzania, there are ineffective agricultural extension services, for a number of reasons, which bring about low farm productivity. Despite the rich experience that most farmers have, many still lack skills and knowledge on crop production. This is what prompted me to study agriculture, specifically agricultural extension and education, so that I can help to extend skills and knowledge to farmers in that area of crop production with the anticipation of increasing the number of food-secure families in my community. 
Life was not easy at first when I arrived at Ohio State; I had to adjust to a new environment and culture, but eventually over time was able to acclimate myself.  I accomplished this by making friends, attending church, and occasionally watching American football, of which I had never seen before coming to America. Another thing that helped me adapt during my stay at Ohio State was visiting the gym on campus. Almost every day I attended the Recreational and Physical Activity Center (RPAC), helping me to stay in good health and spirits throughout my time on campus. 
My research project here at Ohio State aims at “Assessing Perceptions of Cashew Growers on the Effectiveness of Agricultural Extension Agents in Technology Dissemination and Adoption in Masasi District Council, Tanzania”. Under field condition transfer and adoption of innovations to farmers have been a major factor that causes low crop production to most farmers in Tanzania. Due to this problem, most rural household are food insecure. It is obvious that the interaction between agricultural extension agents (AEAs) and farmers, and the extent to which farmers perceive agricultural extension services as useful to them, is paramount to bringing about change in crop production. My project will help to identify cashew growers’ awareness and opinions on the quality of extension agents in disseminating technology and good agricultural practices of cashew. Production constraints and challenges cashew growers face, as well as their willingness/readiness to adopt cashew production technologies, will be part of the study. 
This study is particularly important because cashew is among the major commercial crops, and main source of income, for farmers in the southern regions of Tanzania; and significantly contributes to the economy of Tanzania. For instance, in Masasi District Council where I’m working as an Extension Agent, cashew contributes over 90% of the farmers’ incomes. Currently the average yield of a mature cashew tree in the Masasi district council ranges from 5-7 kg/tree per year, which is far below the average world recorded potential of 27kg/tree per year. With the broad understanding of extension education that I have gained at Ohio State, my research is expected to provide knowledge and information that will enable farmers to understand and adopt particular cashew technologies and production management practices. Since cashew is the main cash crop and plays a key role in ensuring household income and food security in Masasi District Council, the findings of this study will help to improve the quality of agricultural extension services and approaches, leading to increased crop production particularly of the cashew nut in the district. More importantly, the study will help to inform extension agents and decision makers about appropriate and sustainable extension approaches that may promote the uptake of technologies and good management practices of cashew for its increased production. Increased cashew production will help create job opportunities for rural populations, particularly women and youth. Increased cash incomes will help to reduce poverty and improve food security at the household level. Likewise, due to increased crop production, the Masasi District Council will increase its revenue through collections from produce cess. The collected funds can be used for improvement of social services, including but not limited to education, health, water, and road infrastructure within the council. 
In reflecting on my Ohio State graduate program and research to date, my selected major -Agricultural and Extension Education – has helped me to gain skills in both leadership and extension communication that will help me to provide better agricultural extension services to the farmers in my work place for increased crop production and ultimately change farmers’ lives.
I’m so thankful to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for supporting my graduate studies at Ohio State. Of course it would not have been possible without the financial support from USAID - from the American people - through the iAGRI project. 
Winfrid is a graduate student sponsored by the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a Feed the Future project in Tanzania funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by The Ohio State University. This major food security project seeks to prepare the next generation of agricultural scientists, leaders and food system institutions in Tanzania through graduate degree training, collaborative research, and human and institutional capacity development (HICD).


Ferdous-e-Elahi: Enhancing Food Security in Bangladesh

Entry made by Ferdous-e-Elahi, February 2, 2016

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 is focusing 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.

Joan Msuya: Following Your Smile

Entry made by Joan Msuya on July 22, 2015

They say that in order for one to be successful in each aspect of life, one of the key attributes is liking what you are doing and doing it whole heartedly. In other words, do something that will make you smile. This principle is also true academically, professionally and socially.

As a Msc. Student in Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University, I   thank God for the opportunity of allowing me to follow my smile. I had the chance to expand my knowledge in Nutrition at Ohio State in the Department of Human Sciences, Human Nutrition. Through my course work, a lot of valuable knowledge was gained. For the first time in my life, I was able to clearly differentiate between Applied Sciences and Basic Sciences.

Differences were seen throughout the weekly seminar presentations I attended in my department. Each and every week, different topics were presented using different methodologies and statistical analyses, but what was common in all of them was that “the research was being presented to an audience.” Most of the presenters were professors from different departments who are engaged in nutrition related activities. It was such a wonderful experience and I was glad it put a smile on my face.

During my second semester, it was the graduate students who presented and other faculty and fellow graduate students who evaluated the student presenter. Wow, this was also an exciting thing! The evaluation criteria was based on what you liked the most about the presentation, what you liked the least about the presentation and what the speaker could improve upon in the future. From this experience some of the valuable lessons that I learned include: The audience likes to make a connection between themselves and the presenter and to hear a knowledgeable presenter who paraphrases the information on the slides while delivering a stimulating topic. This is very important for all presenters whether they are in an academic setting or with the general public. As a researcher you need to present your results to different audiences, so knowing your audience, knowing your materials, and maintaining a good contact with the audience will enhance the delivery of the results you seek.

Through my BSc. Human Nutrition from Sokoine University of Agriculture and my involvement in a number of research activities that target women and children, my smile also arises as I work with mothers and children in improving their nutritional status.  I am so interested in this particular group because investing in the future of young children is one of the most rewarding works that can be offered in order to ensure that they also have a smile on their faces.  But oftentimes, the future of young children is constantly threatened with under nutrition in many developing countries including Tanzania. Young children are left with permanent functional deficits such as stunting, impaired intellectual development, reduced economic productivity, and later on, low offspring birth weight.  It is true that, “nobody can save the entire world,” but developing and advancing research that can bring about solutions to some of the current problems in the world can be a way of saving the world from your own locality.  With this in mind, I, together with my advisor Dr. Sanja Ilic, and co-advisor Dr. Joyce Kinabo, have been working hand in hand to develop my research topic on Food Safety of Homemade Complimentary Foods in Tanzania.   

Since my research work will be based on microbiology, I had the chance of working in Dr. Ilic’s laboratory for the entire time at Ohio State. Food Microbiology was simply a course that I had started during my first year during my undergraduate degree. But now I had the chance of exploring it further and doing the actual analyses. With the mentorship of Dr. Ilic and my other lab mates, Victor Pool and Huayi Suo, I was able to improve my hands-on skills of microbiological assays.
From working with the lab team, I was able to realize the importance of teamwork.  An hour of hassle of finding something can be solved by just a single minute of asking someone to clarify a particular thing. So my lab time was extremely memorable and useful.  From this experience I will be able to do microbial analyses for coliforms, generic E.coli, Salmonella spp and Listeria monocytogenes on the homemade complimentary foods once I’m in Tanzania for my research.

And lastly no one is an island. In order to smile you have to interact with other people. My stay at Ohio State was filled with a lot of funny activities which not only helped me relax after my classes, but even formed bonds with new people which will last for a lifetime. Each Friday evening, we met with other international students for dinner, interactions and Bible Discussion.  This was through the organization called Bridges International. With Bridges, I was able to attend a conference in Washington, D.C and we even made an “O-H-I-O” in front of the White House.  Watching football games, playing different indoor games, ice-skating, riding roller coasters at Cedar Point and Kings Island were all part of the exciting activities that made me smile.

So, no matter where you are, what you are doing, or what your life goals are, following your smile is definitely one of the best ways of experiencing the real “you” and achieving the best in different endeavors.  

Joan is a graduate student sponsored by the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a Feed the Future project in Tanzania funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by The Ohio State University. This major food security project seeks to prepare the next generation of agricultural scientists, leaders and food system institutions in Tanzania through graduate degree training, collaborative research, and human and institutional capacity development (HICD).

Rosemary Isoto: My Experience As An International Student at The Ohio State University

Entry made by Rosemary Isoto, September 23, 2014

My name is Rosemary E. Isoto and I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics (AEDE) at The Ohio State University.  I am originally from Uganda, and I received my undergraduate and masters studies in Makerere University, Uganda. My research interests include migration, nutrition, microfinance institutions, health shocks and agricultural productivity. I am specifically interested in examining the role of remittances sent by national and international migrants on household nutrition in Tanzania. This plays a huge role in understanding how to improve the food security situation among rural households who may or may not be able to receive remittances. Besides that, I am also interested in assessing the impact of microcredit borrowed by households in increasing their agricultural productivity through mitigation of health shocks. I received my first year funding for another masters from Integrated Pest Management –Collaborative Research Program (IPM CRSP). Thereafter, AEDE department offered me financial support for the rest of PhD studies. I am heartily grateful to IPM CRSP for this support and consider it a gateway to my PhD studies at The Ohio State University.

To me, when I first started at Ohio State University, it was very overwhelming because there was a lot to get acquainted with in a short time. The weather was daunting as it is so different from back home, and the stress of being far away from family was a lot to bear. However, I found a lot of support within the campus community, especially with Pat Rigby and the AEDE family. Everyone was willing to help me in any way possible to make my stay less stressful.

There is a lot to adjust to as an international student. However, Ohio State has a lot to offer in terms of academic support and social support; you just need to know where to find it. Ohio State, through the AEDE department, has provided me with an opportunity to be an independent instructor for (AEDE/INTSTDS 4536) Economic Development of Sub-Saharan Africa, a course through which I have been able to share my vast international knowledge with undergraduate students. Overall, this has been a very gratifying experience for me. I hope to be able to advance my career in academia given the wealth of knowledge and experience I have received from The Ohio State University. Specifically, I hope to be able to remain within the university setting where I will be able to further my research and share my knowledge for the benefit of society.

New iAGRI Student, Joyce Mwakatoga, relishes in the first few weeks at The Ohio State University    

Entry made on September 22, 2014 - It's only been a few weeks since she arrived on campus to begin her graduate studies within Ohio State's Department of Agricultural Communication, Environment, and Leadership, but Joyce Mwakatoga is already diving into all of the opportunities to get involved that Ohio State University and the City of Columbus have to offer. Here is just a short overview of what she has experienced during her short time on campus!

2014 Farm Science Review

The demonstrations we had the chance to see really showed how “big farming” occurs in United States. Though I’ve gone through agricultural classes throughout my academic studies, I’ve never seen big farm machinery like the ones I saw at the Farm Science Review. I was happy to see most of the brands I’ve encountered in my classes - John Deere, Kubota, New Holland, & Cat (Caterpillar), which my mother owns.

The Amaranths weed in Ohio: A Serious Threat to Agriculture

Amaranths is one of the most common vegetables in my country of Tanzania, and we had never had serious issues with it in our plantations. It actually is highly recommended to pregnant women because it highly rich in iron. We learned about it in school and became to know it as "pig weed", but this was the first instance I've heard of it being a threat to crops.

Ohio State Football - American Football!

I am not much of a friend of any kind of game, football especially (soccer, basketball, nor any type of a game). However, going to the Ohio State Football game was such an amazing experience. Even though I was unfamiliar with any principles of the game, I was still able to smile and shout "OH"-"IO" along with other fans. I love the fact the game was only one part of this experience, as there was a lot to enjoy outside the actual game like the Ohio State Marching Band's performance. The band was able to form different words and signs in the field as they marched, which I found particularly lovely.

Tour of the Ohio State Capitol Building

We found out a lot of information about the state of Ohio through the tour of the State Capital Building, which was organized by Office of International Affairs at Ohio State. The tour was a part of the International Student Tour of Columbus that the office organized to introduce international students to the city and state that they now live in!

Joyce is a graduate student sponsored by the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a Feed the Future project in Tanzania funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by The Ohio State University. This major food security project seeks to prepare the next generation of agricultural scientists, leaders and food system institutions in Tanzania through graduate degree training, collaborative research, and human and institutional capacity development (HICD).