Campus News

Borlaug Fellows work with UGA researchers to enhance food security

Borlaug Fellow Direba Demisse 2015 h.
Borlaug Fellow Direba Demisse of Ethiopia visits the UGA Dairy Cattle Farm. Demisse hopes to use modern molecular technologies and develop a cattle-breeding strategy to increase dairy production and improve his country's food security.

For the many vegetarians in Southern India, a kind of legume called pulse crops are essential. Not only are they a main source of protein, but these legumes—which include lentils and several types of beans—can grow in poor soil and produce crops even with limited and erratic rainfall.

Unfortunately, production levels of these crops have declined over the past 70 years, according to Sushil Yadav, a Borlaug Fellow. Yadav spent four months at the UGA Center for Applied Genetic Technologies working with Zenglu Li learning “metabolic fingerprinting” skills that he’ll take back to India.

“Eighty percent of the farms in the Hyderabad area of India are small and marginal,” said Yadav, who is a scientist at the Central Research Institute for Dryland Research. “If we can identify the key genetic regulators for enhancing drought-stress tolerance in these crops, we can stabilize their productivity and increase their availability to a very large vegetarian population in India.”

Yadav is one of three international researchers who studied with UGA faculty as part of the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, the program promotes food security and economic growth by promoting training and collaborative research opportunities to researchers and policymakers from developing or middle-income countries. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Office of Global Programs has hosted researchers from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

“There are a number of benefits for both the individual fellows and mentors,” said Victoria McMaken, associate director of the Office of Global Programs, “but because all of these projects are related to food security, the University of Georgia, the state of Georgia and the U.S. all benefit from creating long-standing connections with university and research institutions throughout the world.”
Direba Demisse of Ethiopia and Reham Fathey Aly of Egypt also studied at UGA as Borlaug Fellows.

“Ethiopia has more than 50 million heads of cattle, but milk production is very low. In fact, we have to import milk from other countries,” said Demisse, a researcher at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research.

Demisse hopes to use modern molecular technologies and develop a cattle-breeding strategy to increase dairy production and improve his country’s food security. During his stay, Demisse worked with Ignacy Misztal in the animal and dairy sciences department.

Aly, who is at UGA until late July, said she has learned a great deal about integrated pest management that she plans to introduce to her colleagues at the University of Cairo in Giza, Egypt.

“Not only will the work I’m learning be useful in the management and mitigation of the peach fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly, but I hope to write a project that uses (integrated pest management) for the control of snails, which have become a major pest in Egypt,”said Aly, who is working with Ashfaq Sial in the UGA entomology department.

Sial, whose research includes developing new pest management techniques to control spotted wing drosophila in blueberries, is traveling to Egypt later this year to continue his work with Aly.

“One of the many benefits of the Borlaug Fellowship is the opportunity for mentors to travel to the fellow’s country,” Sial said. “At this point, Egypt has very little understanding of IPM techniques and relies more on chemical options to control pests. There are a lot of opportunities to establish partnerships with researchers there that could particularly benefit fruit and vegetable growers in both Georgia and parts of Egypt.”