Oregon State faculty helping farmers in other countries
By MITCH LIES
THE DALLES, Ore. -- Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences faculty are helping feed the world through an international program that helps foreign farmers improve crop production.
And, in the process, they are learning a little something about themselves.
Brian Tuck and Ross Penhallegon are among several OSU extension faculty who have been participating in a U.S. Agency for International Development program that is helping improve crop production around the world.
"It's fun, exciting, and the main thing is being able to help people grow food," said Penhallegon, a Lane County extension agent who has participated in more than two dozen USAID-backed farmer-to-farmer excursions.
"It's a great way of extending our expertise," said Tuck, director of the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center, who has participated in four excursions.
"You meet a lot of amazing people. And you always come away learning something," he said.
"You realize how other people live in the world, and to not take your country for granted," Tuck said. "And you gain a better understanding of agriculture in the world."
Tuck, who was in Tanzania in 2011, is preparing for a trip to Tanzania's southern neighbor Mozambique Jan. 18.
Excursions typically last two to three weeks, Tuck said.
In Tanzania, Tuck said, farmers face challenges far different from challenges that confront farmers here.
"They have very little machinery and only marginal access to agricultural chemicals," Tuck said, "and very little training in how to use them."
Tuck, who was in Tanzania for three weeks in September of 2011, conducted two seminars aimed at "training the trainers," where he instructed local agricultural advisors on crop-management techniques. And he visited local farms and conducted hands-on demonstrations.
"They know their farms," Tuck said. "I'm just there to give them ideas of potential solutions. I'm just there to help them think through the problem and provide them some alternatives.
"I never look at them as, 'These people don't know what they're doing,'" Tuck said. "They do know what they're doing. It's just that they don't have a lot of resources."
To protect crops from bugs, Tuck said, some farmers use "floating row covers," or weaves that allow in light and water, but keep out bugs.
In most cases, however, Tuck said, the best way Tanzanian farmers can prevent crop loss to insects, weeds and diseases is to promote plant health. That, too, can be challenging, he said, given that most farmers have limited access to synthetic fertilizers. And, he said, by exposing manure to sunlight farmers lose much of its nutrient value and fail to take advantage of their best nutrient source.
Improving their use of manure through soil incorporation was one lesson Tuck said he emphasized during the excursion.
Penhallegon found similar crop management shortcomings when he first visited Kyrgyztan in 2005. After noticing that farmers weren't pruning their apple orchards, Penhallegon introduced them to pruning techniques, and today, he said, well over 50 percent of the orchards are pruned.
"It was exciting to go back and see they were pruning," Penhallegon said.
Penhallegon said he also introduced apple-scab resistant wood scions to farmers there in the mid-2000s. Today, he said, most apple orchards in Kyrgyztan contain trees resistant to apple scab.
According to the USAID website, the agency's farmer-to-farmer programs are a key part of its efforts to develop sustainable agricultural strategies in foreign countries that allow the countries to feed their own populations without depleting their natural resources.
The agency said that as a result of these programs, 18 million people will escape hunger and increase their incomes by 2015.
Tuck, who has been to Lebanon and Jordan, in addition to the two African nations, in the last 30 months, said foreign farmers are thankful for the program.
"They realize you're coming over there to help them out, and they are really appreciative," Tuck said.
Tuck also said he has never felt in danger.
"You have to be smart," he said, "and realize you're a guest in that country and be sensitive to your surroundings.
"You don't want to stand out. You want to blend in as much as possible," he said.
"It's not about them adapting to you," he said. "It's you that has to adapt to them."