Since 2011, a $25.5 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development has funded graduate degrees for 135 Tanzanians, including 21 who have been educated at CFAES.
In Tanzania, more than three-fourths of the labor force works in agriculture, many of them farmers with 5 or fewer acres, who weed by hand and strap pesticide tanks to their backs to keep the many pests from devouring their crops. Dirt roads far outnumber the paved ones, and few own a car to bring what they harvest to the larger markets where they could earn more.
Working in the fields of Tanzania and in the classrooms of CFAES, faculty have helped Tanzanians increase their agricultural productivity and reduce food insecurity in their country. For seven years, a CFAES faculty member, David Kraybill, lived in Tanzania and worked on-site with farmers and faculty. Along with collaborating on research with Tanzanian scientists, Kraybill and others have trained Tanzanians who play key roles in educating agriculture students and small farmers.
“It’s not sustainable for me to say ‘I’m an expert’ and go there for two weeks, train them and then come back,” said Mark Erbaugh, director of CFAES International Programs in Agriculture. “We’re working with their scientists and students to build their capacity to get the job done.”
Stalking maize lethal necrosis
Deogracious P. Massawe knows farmers who have lost row after row of corn to a disease ravaging cornfields across northern Tanzania, a country where maize dominates the diet. He has stood in cornfields, peeling back husks, only to find dry and beige ears or plants that never even formed a cob.
As part of his CFAES graduate studies, Massawe determines the genetic makeup of the viruses causing the disease killing swaths of cornfields in his native country: maize lethal necrosis. First reported in Kenya in 2011, maize lethal necrosis has spread through East Africa, contributing to the region’s malnutrition rate. “We have to make sure we manage this disease so that it doesn’t spread to other regions. We have to contain this disease,” Massawe said.
For his doctoral research in the CFAES Department of Plant Pathology, Massawe tracks the prevalence of the viruses causing maize lethal necrosis across Tanzania. Besides analyzing the genetic makeup of those viruses, he also identifies previously undiagnosed viruses that pose a threat to corn, and in turn, to Tanzanian small farmers’ already limited incomes. Knowing the genetic makeup of hazardous viruses, Massawe and others can help develop tools to diagnose the viruses and create new varieties of corn able to resist them.
Hunger amid plenty
In Rita Mirondo’s native country of Tanzania, where a little more than one-third of the population struggles with malnutrition, fruits and vegetables rot in fields every year. Very few juicing or canning plants exist, so many go without an adequate supply of nutritious food.
Mirondo came to Ohio State in 2012 to pursue a doctorate degree and gain the research skills needed to help her country’s ability to process and add value to the crops grown that would otherwise rot. Her CFAES research focused on improving the quality and safety of producing mango puree and tomato juice, keeping the peels on the two fruits. Besides adding antioxidants, keeping the peels on could potentially lower the cost of processing the fruits.
“Taking off the peel means we’re taking off nutrients,” Mirondo said. “I want to look at ways in which we can use the parts we consider waste— the peel, the roots, the leaves— to enrich the product.”
As a graduate student in the CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology, Mirondo had access to modern labs and food processing techniques that made her research possible. She learned various ways to pasteurize juices, which are critical skills in Tanzania, where farmers sometimes inadvertently produce bottled juices high in bacteria.
Mirondo hopes to help improve the food processing industry in Tanzania by increasing the country’s potential to process more of its fruits, vegetables and other crops so that fewer will rot and more will be eaten year-round.