Oct 132008
Authors: Tyler Okland

Rebecca Nelson, a Cornell University agriculture professor, addressed weak funding for international agricultural research Monday at CSU, saying researchers must utilize alternative methods of providing crop-raising solutions for third-world countries in an increasingly expensive research environment.

Nelson said funding shortfalls across the board in agricultural research initiatives that aim to improve food production and security in third-world countries leave the impoverished nations in an unstable environment.

In her speech, which headlined the 9th annual Thornton Massa Lecture, Nelson said the percentage of international agricultural support has decreased fourfold.

“Traditional agricultural systems ideally need to move towards ecologically intensive agricultural systems, in other words doing more with less,” she said.

Nelson is the program director of the McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program, which is one of the few healthy organizations implementing international agriculture research in third-world countries.

Her goals include possible genetic modification of cereal crops in an attempt to make them more pest- and disease-resistant. She aims to increase nutrition for rural workers in impoverished countries, who often resort to selling their mineral-rich crops, which can lead to malnutrition and poor growth in children.

“The issue is compounded by the fact that recently, farmers in developing countries are more and more unable to pay for fertilizer,” Nelson said.

Since increasingly expensive petroleum is necessary to produce the energy-intensive nitrogen in fertilizers, the price of fertilizer has skyrocketed past the financial reach of many farmers throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The growing need for financial aid and support in such countries has allowed organizations like the McKnight Foundation to focus their research to locate a solution faster.

“Finally we said let’s focus on where people are really hungriest,” Nelson said. “So we chose the Eastern horn of Africa, and we integrated legumes in cereal based-systems.”

Dan Bush, the head of the Biology Department at CSU and co-organizer of the event said he wants to increase awareness of these issues locally.

“Each year our committee tries to bring to CSU a prominent scientist that has had a significant impact on biodiversity or genomics or plant diversity, to illustrate what the challenges and sometimes the solutions are for plant genetics, and to ultimately improve the human condition.”

Though CSU does not currently offer graduate programs dedicated to crop security in developing countries, the Agriculture Department has recently become more interested in the agricultural sustainability and the concerns of international agriculture.

Nelson said that during the implementation of her programs, she must allow the new systems to maintain the traditions and cultures of the countries she works in.

“A lot of creative energy is going into how researchers can collaborate with communities,” she said. “It is up to us to introduce to them options and concepts. But without understanding their traditions we cant be in a place to tell them what to do.”

Staff writer Tyler Okland can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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