Engaging tomorrow's agricultural researchers in international development

Students measure out a plot in a field
A graduate student from Tribhubhan University works with Rachel Suits, an entomology graduate student at North Carolina State University, to set up rows for an intercropping field trial for a Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund project with the Ecological Services Centre in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Rachel Suits

Not vacation, summer classes or lab work — some U.S. graduate students will be able to answer the classic back-to-school question, “What did you do this summer?” with stories of working abroad on agricultural development projects.

This summer, the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program paired U.S. graduate students with organizations in developing countries for 13 new projects on fruits and vegetables — as part of its Trellis Fund program.

The new projects will send graduate students to Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania, Guatemala, Nepal and Bangladesh to work with development organizations, farmer groups, national agricultural research organizations and local universities. Projects address topics from pollination-friendly practices to postharvest training, with horticultural crops from beets to mangos.

The Trellis Fund not only engages graduate students as partners and consultants abroad, but was originally proposed by a University of California, Davis student and continues to be managed by students who work for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

“I think we feel closer to the program because it is managed by our peers and for our peers,” said Elana Peach-Fine, a UC Davis graduate student who most recently led Trellis management. “We put a lot of heart and soul in this program because we’re responsible for it, and we believe in it."

This was the third round of such projects, for a total of 37 38 Trellis projects in 14 15 countries (see update below). In the first Trellis projects in 2011, 10 students worked on projects that reached more than 1,935 farmers.

“We’ve found that Trellis is a good opportunity for students to dip their toes into international development work — both for student managers in our office and for students who travel on the projects,” said Amanda Crump, associate director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “An important part of graduate school is conducting research and learning how to manage research, and Trellis is giving them out-of-classroom experience in an international setting.”

Building capacity is a central tenet of the Trellis Fund projects, both for the organizations and for the students. Though they are the agricultural researchers of the future, many of the students have not considered working in international development.

One such agricultural researcher is Rachel Suits, who studied entomology at North Carolina State University.

“One thing that was really exciting about this program was the opportunity to be fully immersed in another culture and do something that was work-related in a different country,” she said.

She traveled to Nepal with a Trellis project to work on integrated pest management with the Ecological Services Centre, to reduce pesticide use in vegetables.

“I hope the Trellis students have a very real experience working in international development, with all the frustrations and rewards that comes with it,” Peach-Fine said. “I hope they carry the sense with them that their work as agricultural researchers has the potential to be important to a global society.”

Horticulture CRSP is funded by USAID and led by the University of California, Davis. The program builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries. The program will soon be called the Horticulture Innovation Lab as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative. For more, visit http://hortcrsp.ucdavis.edu.

Editor's note and update

As of April 2, 2014: After the publication of this press release and subsequent related articles, an additional Trellis project was awarded. The 14th project awarded for the 2013-2014 school year is in Mali, after USAID resumed its agricultural research projects there. Information on this page and related pages has been updated to reflect this fact.

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