As global interdependence and the world food crisis continue to grow, so does the importance of land-grant institution involvement in international agriculture, said an expert from one of the country’s leading land-grant universities.
“For decades, land-grant universities have been helping poor and underdeveloped countries gain better food security and social stability by helping them improve their agriculture and agribusiness,” said Dr. Edwin Price, director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of the Texas A&M System.
Land-grant institutions evolved from the U.S.government granting states federal lands, provided they establish a college or university offering programs related to agriculture, engineering, and family and consumer sciences in addition to more traditional curriculum.
Price said land-grant institutions, including Texas A&M, play a vital part in international agriculture through providing developing countries with technical assistance, educational outreach, improved technology and agricultural practices, scientific training and research, and hands-on instruction.
After more than a century of helping develop U.S. agriculture and elevate the educational level of rural Americans, land-grant universities began taking their expertise to other countries, mainly impoverished ones, Price said.
“A lot of that began in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when they began to establish agricultural universities in these countries and started to train their faculty," he said. "And land-grant institutions across the nation continue to encourage students, faculty, private individuals and other institutions to respond to opportunities in international agriculture."
The Borlaug Institute, for example, currently leads or has a significant role in international agriculture projects in Iraq, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Armenia, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries, he said. Price noted the assistance of land-grant institutions in developing countries has been particularly important because the agriculture sector typically represents a significant portion of their overall economy.
“Not only is agriculture the primary or secondary economic generator in many countries, often half or more of their workforce is engaged in agricultural pursuits, usually at or just slightly above a subsistence level,” he said.
Price said the World Bank’s latest World Development Report put agriculture and the productivity of the small farmer firmly at the heart of the fight against global poverty.
“The report also stressed the importance of investing in research and agricultural infrastructure to help poor countries develop a sustainable agriculture,” he said. “This is what many land-grant colleges and universities in the U.S. have been doing – and will continue to do – to help feed the world.”
Price added that with the burgeoning world food crisis, land-grant institution involvement and leadership in international agricultural development will continue to grow in importance.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Congressional Gold Medal recipient for whom the Texas A&M institute is named, expressed a similar view in an opinion piece which appeared June 6 in the Wall Street Journal.
In the editorial, Borlaug and Peter McPherson, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, lauded U.S. land-grant universities as “institutional marvels in agricultural science, teaching and the continuing education of farmers” in the U.S. and around the world.
Today, land-grant universities provide developing countries with a broader and more comprehensive understanding of agriculture, including production, processing, quality control and other “links in the food value-chain,” said Price.
Land-grant institutions also are the premiere trainers for efforts related to international agriculture, added Borlaug, who has been a distinguished professor at Texas A&M since 1984.
“The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than 50 percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger as a constant companion," Borlaug said. "Land-grant institute efforts are essential in helping the world achieve a more lasting food security.” Price said the institutions typically implement international agriculture programs directly or in partnership with leading development firms, non-governmental organizations, universities and international research centers.
"Land-grant universities also often work together in these endeavors,” he said. “They collaborate on research and share information and expertise toward reaching a common goal.”
Funding for international agriculture projects typically comes from governments, donor institutions and the private sector, Price said. Many Borlaug Institute projects have been funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Foreign Agriculture Service.
“With such funding, land-grant institutions have been successful in helping other developing nations improve the quality and quantity of their agricultural products,” he said. “But in the future we will need to place more emphasis on helping develop agricultural leadership and the institutions which support and sustain agricultural development.”
International agriculture efforts through the Borlaug Institute include:
RWANDA – Since 2001 the Texas A&M System has helped rebuild Rwandan agriculture, particularly its coffee industry. As the lead institution of a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded SPREAD project, the Borlaug Institute has been instrumental in helping improve the income and quality of life for Rwandan farmers. Along with coffee, the institute is helping Rwandan farmers develop, process and market other “high value” crops, including chili peppers and cassava.
IRAQ – The Texas A&M System has been involved in agricultural reconstruction in Iraq since 2003. Through USDA-funded projects, Texas A&M has provided crucial support through expertise, research, technology and training to Iraqi farmers. Efforts have helped Iraqis successfully grow crops in arid regions through better water management and irrigation. Other activities include assistance with livestock production, animal health, private sector development and agricultural market development.
GUATEMALA – In 2005 the Texas A&M System began work on the USDA-funded Food for Progress program in Guatemala, and a second program was recently awarded. Efforts focus on improving horticulture and food processing, teaching improved agricultural practices, providing hands-on education and developing new agriculture- related businesses. Thousands of Guatemalans, mostly indigenous Mayan peoples, have benefited from this program.
INDONESIA – Since 2005 Texas A&M has worked on a USDA-funded project in conjunction with the Institut Pertanian Bogor (Bogor Agricultural University) in Indonesia to improve food-related health. Part of the project focuses mainly on food science education, agricultural faculty development and research, and assistance to larger agriculture-based businesses. Another part of the project focuses on assisting small- and medium-sized food-based business enterprises by providing low-interest micro-credit loans and free on-site technical training on topics such as food safety and food processing and marketing. For more information on the Borlaug Institute and its international agriculture programs, go to: http://borlaug.tamu.edu.