Borlaug Fellows from Africa get training, do research at OSU

November 7, 2008
Haoua Sabo, a biochemist at Abdou Moumouni University in Niger, gives a presentation about her research. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
Haoua Sabo, a biochemist at Abdou Moumouni University in Niger, gives a presentation about her research. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An agricultural economist and two biochemists from Africa are wrapping up seven weeks of training and research at Oregon State University that aims to improve the diets, health and financial conditions of people in their countries.

The three came to Corvallis through the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program. The program temporarily places agricultural researchers and policymakers from developing countries at universities and other institutions in the United States. The visiting fellows then receive scientific training and engage in collaborative research that seeks to promote food security and economic growth in their countries.

"This has been a valuable opportunity to build relationships and assist in the development of agricultural self-sufficiency in Africa," said Stella Coakley, an associate dean at OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Phyllis Mends, a principal agricultural economist at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana, came to OSU to learn new research methods and how to use a software program that will allow her to create a database on female farmers in Ghana. The data would include their production, yields, income and the number of acres they cultivate. A database is necessary, she said, because rural women typically produce 70 percent of the country's food, yet little is known about their agricultural operations.

The hope is that policymakers and nongovernmental organizations will use the data to help the women increase their productivity and income and ultimately ensure a sufficient supply of food to all Ghanaians. Mendes' mentor at OSU is Susan Capalbo, the head of the agricultural and resource economics department.

Haoua Sabo, a biochemist at Abdou Moumouni University in Niger, came to OSU to analyze the nutritional value of two varieties of seeds from the Cucurbitaceae plant family, which includes cucumbers, squashes and melons. She is also studying seeds from Boscia senegalensis, a woody shrub in Africa. During famines in poverty-stricken Niger, people eat these seeds as alternative sources of food because the plants grow wild and don't require much water.

Sabo hasn't been able to study their nutritional content in Niger because her lab lacks the necessary equipment. At OSU, she is using the equipment in the Linus Pauling Institute. Bob Durst, a researcher at the institute, said part of the funds from the Borlaug fellowship would be used to buy some small equipment for Sabo's lab.

While at OSU, Olufunke Ola-Davies, a veterinary biochemist at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, has continued her research on Spondias mombin, a plum tree, and Chromolaena odorata, a weed also known as Jack in the bush. She's interested in studying their medicinal uses in livestock and humans, but the equipment needed to isolate and elucidate the active compounds in their leaves isn't easily accessible in Nigeria. So she came to OSU, to use its equipment with help from John Mata, a researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Borlaug Fellows will depart on Nov. 14.

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave OSU $71,000 to cover the visiting researchers' transportation, lodging, food, research expenses, stipends for the mentors' labs, and a trip to The World Food Prize Symposium, an international agricultural conference in Iowa. This is the second time OSU has hosted visitors through the Borlaug program, which was created in 2004 in honor of Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for developing high-yielding wheat varieties and reversing food shortages in India and Pakistan in the 1960s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the program.

Author: Tiffany Woods
Source: Stella Coakley, Haoua Sabo, Olufunke Ola-Davies, Phyllis Mends