Cooperate Globally, Act Locally - Collaborative Stories of CFAES faculty and Borlaug Fellows

Dec. 13, 2017

In Autumn 2017, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) was selected to host Alimata Bandaogo from Burkina Faso, Kristine Pascual from the Philippines, and Thobela Nkukwana from South Africa to work with CFAES faculty members through the support of the Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program. The Borlaug Fellowship Program is supported by the Foreign Agriculture Service in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and aims to promote food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to fellows from developing and middle-income countries. By improving fellows' understanding of agricultural science, the program helps foster science-based trade policies that improve international market access for U.S. agricultural products.

The program’s namesake, Norman E. Borlaug, was an American agronomist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate known as the “father of the Green Revolution.” Through the Borlaug Fellowship Program, approximately 800 scientists, researchers, or policymakers from 64 countries have participated in research and training since 2004. Each fellow works one-on-one with a mentor at a U.S. university, research center or government agency, usually for 8-12 weeks. The U.S. mentor later visits the fellow’s home institution to continue cooperation, and to promote long-term food security and economic growth.

Assist Burkina Faso’s Smallholders in Better Fertilizer Use

Alimata BandaogoIn Burkina Faso, agriculture accounts for 37% of the gross domestic product, while 80% of the population is low-income subsistence farmers. These farmers grow accustomed to following blanket recommendations for applying fertilizer, without considering whether these recommendations are suitable for every farmland type.

To address this knowledge gap, Alimata Bandaogo, 2017 Borlaug Fellow and research specialist at Burkina Faso’s Institute of Environment and Agronomic Research, is working with Dr. Rafiq Islam (Ohio State South Centers) on a project entitled “Improving efficiency and profitability of fertilizer use within the framework of integrated soil fertility management for smallholder farmers”.

“My research is based on how to increase soil fertility with the use of leguminous crops (e.g. cowpea, soybean, mucuna) in rotation with cereal crops (e.g. maize, rice),” says Alimata, who is also studying fertilizer microdosing across various cropping systems.

For the fellowship period at Ohio State, Alimata laid out three objectives: 1) To familiarize herself with new techniques of soil sample analysis, 2) to understand long-term continuous no-till, and 3) to study greenhouse gas emissions in maize production systems. Her knowledge gained in these areas will not only aid Burkina Faso’s farmers to use specific fertilizer in certain soil types, but increase the resilience of the country’s agricultural production systems against climate change.

Alimata shares that CFAES staff and students are as nice as those in Burkina Faso, which has made her time at Ohio State enjoyable. “I want to especially thank my mentor, Dr. Islam, who has taught me so many different things." 

For instance, Alimata describes how in Burkina Faso, scientists are familiar with some conventional field testing or sampling techniques, but are not aware of easier ways to do some of these things. She said that she is looking forward to conitnuing to work more on these experimental techniques after her return to West Africa.

More Rice with Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Kristine PascualKristine Pascual, 2017 Borlaug Fellow and senior research specialist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), is working with Dr. Rattan Lal (School of Environment and Natural Resources) on a project entitled “Climate Smart Agriculture: Effects of biochar application and wetting and drying technique on the soil air concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in rice.”

Water shortage and unequal distribution of irrigation water are not only challenge for Kristine’s home country, the Philippines, but for Asia overall.

“It takes as much as 4000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of rice,” explains Kristine.

To deal with this problem, scientists in the International Rice Research Institute and PhilRice have developed several water management strategies to save irrigation water while still maintaining good yields. Kristine has been involved in applied research on water management in rice production through alternate-wetting and drying (AWD) in the Philippines, which allows farmers to save irrigation water up to 35% without yield loss. She’s also been engaged in several projects analyzing biochar use and water management in relation to greenhouse gas emissions, tillage, and crop establishment of rice.

Coming from a research institution that only focuses on the Philippines main staple, rice, Kristine says that it’s a great honor to work with Dr. Rattan Lal - an excellent, obliging mentor, and one of the world’s renowned soil scientists.

“It’s an opportunity for a young and budding researcher like me to work with Dr. Lal to gain a broader perspective in soil science, even though my formal academic training is in agricultural engineering. I hope that even beyond my short stint at Ohio State, I will continue to collaborate with him in the future.”

For Kristine, Ohio State was a very ideal place to gain practical experience and science-based knowledge to then apply in a developing country like the Philippines. “I hope to use the output of my research as supplementary data for my on-going research on biochar in the Philippines, and hope to publish my research with Dr. Lal”.

A Partial Replacement in Poultry Diets for Small Scale Farmers

Thobela NkukwanaMaize and soybean meal are often the main ingredients in poultry diets, but when soybean prices are not favorable, it is necessary to consider a partial replacement in poultry feed. In South Africa, sunflower is the third largest grain crop produced after maize and wheat, and together with soybeans, canola, peanut, and cottonseed, constitute the four oilseeds produced.

Several medium-enterprise and small scale producers in South Africa, who consistently fight against high production costs, would benefit the most from substituting sunflower for soybean in poultry feed. The Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the only agricultural research organization in South Africa, has conducted research to assist emerging small scale farmers in adressing this and other production challenges. ARC is also where Thobela Nkukwana, 2017 Borlaug Fellow and newly appointed lecturer in poultry nutrition at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, has worked with for almost three years.

Poultry scientists have become few and far between in Thobela’s country. She sees the Borlaug Fellowship as not only a personal professional development opportunity, but a means for building South Africa’s network for future collaboration in poultry science, and a mechanism for enhancing South Africa’s economy and food security.

“Poverty has a huge effect on economic and social stability,” says Thobela. “The Borlaug Fellowship appealed to me as a way to change the mindset of how we use agriculture and farming to improve the living standards and combat hunger in developing countries, especially in Africa,” shares Thobela. She says it provided a chance for her to practice how to transfer knowledge for practical adoption and the use of existing technologies.

While at Ohio State, Thobela is working with Dr. Michael Cressman and Dr. Michael Lilburn (Department of Animal Sciences) on a project entitled “Effect of multi-enzyme supplementation on nutrient digestibility, growth performance, intestinal morphology and carcass yield in broiler chicks fed higher sunflower meal levels in starter and grower/finisher diets”.

“Dr. Lilburn has practical extension experience in poultry production, and has historically provided technical advice to one of the two biggest broiler producers in South Africa. He also excels at relating theory and published findings to practical situations,” explains Thobela.

She says that Ohio State has provided her with a conducive working environment, and that when she visited main campus and met with Dr. Cressman, she appreciated practical exposure to undergraduate students, and to real industry practices.”

Since agricultural extension services in Thobela’s country are often neglected, Ohio State as a land grant university, provided an excellent model for Thoblea to learn about more novel strategies and investigative approaches for improving extension. Thobela is eager to continue her collaborations with Ohio State, saying “The need for future research collaborations between South Africa and the U.S. is paramount.”