CFAES Graduate Students Expand Their Horizons in Tanzania

Nov. 18, 2013

This past summer four graduate students in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences traveled to Morogoro, Tanzania to conduct research with faculty and staff at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA). Patrick Bell, a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Sciences Graduate Program (ESGP); Claire Sutton, a M.S. student in ESPG; Cade Weston, a M.S. student in Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL); and Richard Gallenstien, a graduate student in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics (AEDE) all interned with funding provided by a special travel grant from the International Programs in Agriculture Office (IPA) through the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), a capacity-building program in Tanzania funded through USAID and administered by the CFAES’ IPA Office. Dr. Mark Erbaugh, the Administrative Director of iAGRI and Director of IPA, and Dr. David Hansen, Program Manager, indicated that the goal of the award was to provide U.S. graduate students an opportunity to participate, first-hand, in agricultural research in developing countries. The IPA office is also involved with various other development projects in Africa and Asia.

The projects that the students worked on sought largely to maximize crop production in the face of environmental challenges such as water scarcity and micro-nutrient deficiency in the soil, allowing them the opportunity to understand how systems designed to mitigate these problems also promote longer term conservation practices. Dr. David Kraybill, Director of iAGRI and Professor of Agricultural Economics at Ohio State University, currently lives in Tanzania and was instrumental in connecting the students with SUA faculty members who complimented the students’ academic interests, as well as securing them office and lab space to analyze data they had collected in the field.

The practical research experience gained by these students was invaluable, especially given that it occurred in an international context. “Working in these conditions and under specific constraints not realized in domestic situations provided times to practice flexibility and creative-problem solving,” says Pat Bell. “If you can be patient you find that other cultures have very creative and interesting ways of handling problems as they come up.” Pat shared that he’s interested in international agricultural development, and that this program appealed to that interest through the one-on-one interactions that he and others had with Tanzanian farmers and scientists. Claire even claimed her Swahili came into good use shortly after arriving and now feels encouraged to improve her pronunciation and usage by taking a Swahili language course this upcoming Spring Semester. 

While one outcome of a student’s research in an international setting can be generating data for a graduate thesis or dissertation, academic exposure beyond the walls of one’s own educational institution is arguably just as crucial in today’s world. “Regardless of if [the research] is for your thesis/dissertation work or just for a side project, it will provide you a unique perspective on the role of science in society,” mentions Pat, not to mention the importance of sound research in making development decisions.

Author: Beau Ingle,