Fellowship program brings international scientists to study at LSU AgCenter

Olivia McClure  |  3/15/2018 2:05:48 PM

(03/15/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — Kwame Ogero was working on his master’s degree in Kenya when he came across some research papers written by LSU AgCenter scientists Chris Clark and Arthur Villordon. He found their work helpful, so he cited them in his thesis, which focused on tissue culture in sweet potatoes and cassava.

Six years later, Ogero now counts Clark and Villordon — who are both known for their sweet potato expertise — as mentors. He has been working alongside them in Louisiana since January as part of a fellowship program.

“These are people I was quoting in my first publications,” said Ogero, an agronomy research associate at the International Potato Center office in Tanzania. “It was really a great opportunity working with them. They are so humble. They’ve been so helpful.”

Ogero and Rowell Dikitanan, an economist from the Philippines, are studying at the AgCenter through the Borlaug Fellowship Program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program aims to foster collaboration among researchers around the world.

The AgCenter has hosted 36 visiting scholars from 16 countries through the Borlaug program and similar USDA-funded programs since 2011.

Ogero will return home later this month. Dikitanan, who arrived in Louisiana in February, will stay until May. Their AgCenter mentors will travel to the fellows’ home countries for follow-up visits later this year.

Ogero is working with Clark, a plant pathologist, to learn more about the AgCenter foundation seed program, which provides Louisiana farmers sweet potato planting stock that has been tested for viruses.

Viruses are a major problem in Tanzania and other countries in eastern Africa, Ogero said, often causing farmers to lose up to 98 percent of sweet potato yields.

“Farmers in Tanzania are not used to clean seed,” he said. “They recycle seed from their previous crops, and that means the virus will continue in the field for a long time.”

With help from Villordon, Ogero also is examining how nutrients like phosphorous affect storage root initiation in virus-infected sweet potato plants.

AgCenter economists Naveen Adusumilli and Michael Deliberto are mentoring Dikitanan, who works at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

Dikitanan is interested in the impact of climate-smart agriculture techniques. At the AgCenter, he is getting help in developing ways to evaluate how those practices affect income, crop yields and economic inequality, among other factors.

He recently went to Campti in Natchitoches Parish to attend a meeting for small farmers.

“It’s really good to know the on-the-ground situation — what it’s like here in the U.S., and comparing it with the Philippines,” Dikitanan said.

He, Adusumilli and Deliberto hope to eventually write a paper comparing conservation policies and incentive programs in the two countries.

Jonathan Hubchen, assistant director of the AgCenter Global Network, said the fellowship program benefits the AgCenter as much as it helps similar institutions in other countries.

“Agriculture is not a national system. It is an international, global system with international, global interdependencies,” Hubchen said. “The adoption rates and resulting policy implications for climate-smart agriculture are going to be about as relevant here in Louisiana as they are in the Philippines. By the same token, getting virus-free planting stock is something that is always a concern here.”

He said the program complements ongoing efforts at the AgCenter to form international research partnerships.

“We anticipate that when Kwame and Rowell go home, they will continue their collaboration with their respective mentors indefinitely,” Hubchen said. “This will relate both in their professional development and the professional development of people here — basically a win-win situation.”

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Kwame Ogero, left, and LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Chris Clark set up an experiment with sweet potato plants in a greenhouse on the LSU campus. Clark is mentoring Ogero, an agronomist from Tanzania, through the Borlaug Fellowship Program. Photo by Arthur Villordon/LSU AgCenter

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Rowell Dikitanan, left, talks with a farmer at a recent meeting in Campti, Louisiana. Dikitanan, an economist from the Philippines, is studying at the LSU AgCenter through the Borlaug Fellowship Program. Photo by Naveen Adusumilli/LSU AgCenter

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