Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff recently hosted a delegation of Cochran Fellows comprised of scientists, researchers, government officials and teachers from the countries of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The group was selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service to participate in the UAPB program intended to impart sustainable agriculture practices related to soil health.
“The purpose of the two-week training program was to deliver multifaceted, comprehensive training on soil enrichment techniques and strategies, as well as sustainable agriculture practices in general,” Dr. Pamela Moore, associate dean for global engagement, Office of International Programs at UAPB, said. “The instruction provided was intended to enable the Cochran Fellows to strengthen the agricultural sectors in their respective countries.”
Dr. Moore said the program was unique as it involved collaboration with the state offices of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for Arkansas and Texas, and involved a cultural program that introduced participants to the diversity of U.S. society. Extensive tours and site visits were conducted with producers, the agribusiness sector and research personnel in rural areas and communities, including locations near the Texas-Mexico border where land conditions best approximate those in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Poor soil quality is a major issue for the agriculture sector in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, she said. The difficulties producers face in these countries are compounded by heavy soil salinity caused by intensive cotton tilling and growing.
In addition to the NRCS, UAPB also collaborated with the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde, Texas to conduct workshops and site visits that focused on soil enrichment techniques in arid conditions, small mechanization and the acquisition of appropriate technology. Other topics included irrigation and water management, erosion prevention and plant health in forest and pastureland.
Dr. Moore said program sessions at UAPB introduced participants to the U.S. land grant system and explained the working partnership between higher education, private producers and government agencies.
“UAPB presentations aimed to demonstrate how such a partnership strengthens teaching, research and Extension delivery on vital issues such as the improvement of soil enrichment and other sustainable agriculture practices,” she said. “This design illustrates that a system based on partnership, collaboration and the sharing of information is more effective and sustainable in the long run than isolated investments and strategies that fail to generate multiplier effects.”
Dr. Edmund Buckner, interim dean/director for the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences (SAFHS), and Dr. James O. Garner Jr., former dean/director, explained how universities such as UAPB work to empower farmers at the local level through Extension outreach programs and research on timely agricultural issues. They detailed UAPB’s assets to the community, including well-trained faculty who are engaged in teaching, research and Extension, as well as infrastructure including a biotechnology laboratory, greenhouses, high tunnels, field machinery and adequate land for field demonstrations and research on crops.
On a visit to the Arkansas Farm Bureau headquarters in Little Rock, participants received an overview of the U.S. federal system that governs legislation and regulatory practices that impact the agriculture sector. The session paid particular attention to U.S. legislation on environmental resources and water use in arid zones, water and land codes, and regulations and incentives on crop production.
At the NRCS state office in Little Rock they learned about government regulations concerning crop production and the agency’s role in protecting the nation’s natural resources. NRCS personnel explained their methodology in identifying resource concerns and enacting improvements.
“Before they left Arkansas, the participants traveled through the Delta to the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station in Marianna, Arkansas, where they took a tour of the center’s soil testing lab,” Dr. Moore said. “There, they heard from soil scientists about international soil testing standards, as well as practical and cost-effective soil testing methods and equipment.”
The second half of the program was based in Uvalde, Texas, in collaboration with NRCS Region Nine and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center. The agenda was heavily field-based with a strong focus on experiential learning.
“The field practicum took place in South Central Texas in an area selected to best align with arid soil conditions as identified by NRCS specialists,” Dr. Moore said. “Moreover, crops produced in this region – including cotton, wheat, grains and horticultural crops – are generally consistent with those grown in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.”
Over the course of the program, individual participants were challenged to link knowledge gained during the seminars and site visits to potential actions that could be taken to improve the agriculture sector in their home countries. They were encouraged to determine potential solutions to forge closer partnerships between the government, private sector, higher education and agricultural producers.
“During the program, we gained the knowledge and skills necessary to organize and develop our farming activities,” Izzatbek Kuryozov, teacher at Urgench State University in Urgench, Uzbekistan, said. “We are now trying to master these skills in our work. In general, this program will greatly help people expand their scope of activities. Hopefully what we learned during the seminar will soon give us results.”
Guvanchmyrat Atahanov, laboratory head at the National Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna in Turkmenistan, said he most appreciated the field tours and the chance to see the latest U.S. agricultural equipment. He also enjoyed learning about the integrated approach the U.S. government takes to agriculture and remaining connected to the nation’s farmers.
“I was so impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment of Cochran Fellows in this program – they asked engaging questions, were immersed in the trends impacting training topics and were cordial and hospitable in every regard,” Dr. Moore said. “I was humbled by their insistence that we allow them to prepare meals featuring their traditional dishes. Special kudos belong to Dr. (Daniel) Leskovar (director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center and plant physiologist) and his staff for assisting us and participating in our group dinner in Texas. All of our partners and participants were really great people.”
According to its website, the USDA Cochran Fellowship Program provides short-term training opportunities to agricultural professionals from middle-income countries and emerging markets and democracies. The program’s primary goals are to help eligible countries develop agricultural systems necessary to meet the food and fiber needs of their domestic populations, and strengthen and enhance trade linkages between eligible countries and agricultural interests in the U.S. Approximately 600 Cochran Fellows come to the U.S. each year, generally for two to three weeks, to work with U.S. universities, government agencies and private companies.