A UD delegation meets with representatives of the Federal University of Lavras in Brazil.

Brazilian partnership

UD, Federal University of Lavras conduct agricultural research

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9:19 a.m., July 14, 2011--To expand its global curriculum and stay atop leading international agricultural practices, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), along with the College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program (USDA-NIFA-ISE) to continue on a three-year partnership with the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) in Brazil.

Lead investigators on the grant are Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor, and Tom Sims, T.A. Baker Professor, both from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Kirk Czymmek, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. The project team, however, is much larger, including 14 UD faculty from seven departments in the two colleges.

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Adding another USDA-ISE grant -- along with one established to develop coursework regarding sustainable watershed management practices with India in 2008 -- means that CANR now has strong connections with two countries that are considered agricultural leaders in the world. And while the new grant will benefit CANR, it also will be valuable to other sections of the University.

Donofrio explained the far-reaching implications of the grant, saying, "Our USDA-NIFA-ISE grant will support undergraduate internships to work with our visiting scientists from Brazil as well as to visit our collaborating university in Lavras, Brazil, to help build teaching modules for incorporation into UD courses.

"The goal here is to recruit undergraduates from across the University, and for them to get 'real-world' experience by interacting with Brazilian colleagues both here and in Brazil, in order to make meaningful course modules. The grant will also provide opportunities for as many as 12 Ph.D. students from UFLA to visit UD and spend up to a year working with our faculty on collaborative research projects."

In the future, the hope is to establish both long-standing academic programs and research partnerships, with both institutions helping each other in those areas in which their research overlaps.

Sims, who is deputy dean of the CANR, spoke positively about the emerging UD and UFLA partnership, saying, "UFLA is an outstanding university, engaged in research and teaching programs that are highly relevant to major contemporary global issues. The grant will provide our faculty with wonderful opportunities to enhance our teaching and research programs related to food security, bioenergy, ecology and environmental quality.

"It will also allow teams of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to make extended visits to Brazil to broaden their understanding of the complex nature of these critically important areas."

As a fungal cell biologist, Czymmek said he is excited about the partnership because he studies organisms that affect U.S. agriculture and must be aware of any possible diseases coming from other countries that could impact American crops. Knowing what's going on in the different conditions in Brazil, he said, will help prepare fungal biologists should those conditions and diseases arise in the U.S.

Titus Awokuse, associate professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, singled out another one of these common interests, noting that Brazil and Delaware both have large poultry industries. "Next to the U.S., they are the largest producer of poultry in the world market," he said, adding that this is of special importance to a state like Delaware, where poultry accounts for $3 billion of the state's $8 billion agricultural industry, and specifically to CANR, where a great deal of poultry research is conducted.

According to the grant proposal, another important aspect of the research exchange program is the fact that UD students and professors will get the opportunity to understand how a developing country meets national food security challenges while expanding international trade and addressing today’s serious energy and ecological concerns.

About UD's relationship with UFLA

Ranked as the fourth overall university in Brazil in 2009, UFLA is a perfect spot to understand how such challenges are overcome, with state of the art facilities, 160 laboratories and two experimental farms.

Founded in 1908 and located in southeastern Brazil, UFLA is in an ideal location for agricultural research, as Lavras is a leading production area for such goods as coffee, soybeans, rice, and dairy and beef cattle. According to its website, UFLA is preparing for the challenges facing the new millennium, especially with regards to the agricultural sciences, as it tries to provide assistance to those who seek to tow the line between using natural resources and staying in harmony with environmental preservation.

Although this new grant funds a formal partnership, the relationship between UD and UFLA dates back several years.

Czymmek made an initial visit to the country in 2008, when he attended the Brazilian International Congress in Phytopathology.  It was during this trip that he made contact with representatives of UFLA.

Then, in 2009, representatives of the two institutions signed an agreement to begin long-term collaborations in research, teaching and extension. Last fall, four professors from UFLA came to visit UD, giving talks in the Townsend Hall Commons and discussing the future of the partnership, including possible collaborations on research topics ranging from environmental sustainability to the business of agriculture. This visit was made possible in part from a $6,500 grant from the UD Institute for Global Studies, and from funding by all five CANR departments. 

Representatives from UD then did a reciprocal visit to UFLA. They included Sims, Awokuse, Kali Kniel, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and Greg Binford, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. The UD delegation said UFLA made a positive impact on all who visited.

According to Kniel, the group from UD is hoping to help the researchers in Lavras improve their studies with regards to food safety and food microbiology.  She also noted that the food science department in UFLA is "huge and beautiful and quite diverse in studying food fermentation, meat and dairy science."

Binford said that it will be helpful for UD to learn about what's going on in a developing country, and it will be beneficial for UFLA to learn from agriculturalists in a developed country like the U.S.

Awokuse summed up the main purpose of the collaboration, saying, "The main goal is to build an ongoing bridge with Brazil that will allow for exchange of faculty and students in terms of research and being able to jointly work on projects that will be mutually beneficial for both sides. And I think that this is a good start."

By continuing their partnership, UD and UFLA have found partners to enhance the universities’ international curriculum and research, allowing them to better understand and educate students about the challenges facing the international agricultural community in the years ahead.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Greg Binford

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