Past experience and activities

Image courtesy of The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

Image courtesy of The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

The following summarizes past experience and activities in Africa at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences:


The College has hosted two groups of the Norman E. Borlaug African Women in Science fellowships; one group in the Spring and one in the Fall of 2007. Selected for their potential as future leaders of Africa’s agricultural research programs, nine Borlaug Fellows from Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia were matched with PSU faculty in Food Science, Horticulture, Agronomy, Agricultural and Extension Education, Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Forest Resources and Nutritional Science. Under the direction of faculty mentors, the women conducted independent research projects, enhanced their knowledge of the science of agriculture, and increased their understanding of new research technologies available to them. After spending approximately six weeks at Penn State, the Borlaug Fellows presented their research results in a Washington, DC seminar hosted by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and USAID. Since returning to their home countries, the Borlaug Fellows are continuing their work on nutrition, food safety, rainwater and greywater usage, GIS, forestry, and extension. Many are maintaining a close contact with their PSU mentors.

East Africa


Social Sciences librarians Sylvia Nyana and Helen Sheehy represented the Penn State University Libraries at the Agknowledge Africa Share Fair in October 2010 in Addis Ababa. The fair included a wide variety of professionals who came together to share ideas and practices among small farm holders in Africa and examined issues such as climate change, the use of land, livestock and water. Sylvia Nyana and Helen Sheehy spoke on the role of libraries as centers for the dissemination of indigenous knowledge within Africa.


Dr. Jim Tumlinson had a USDA ISE (International Science and Education) grant to study African honey bees in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.  This grant was funded for 2 years beginning in 2008, involving an initial trip to Kenya in February 2009, and a follow-up trip in early 2010. The African collaborators on this project are scientists at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi.

In the late 1990s, Penn State worked to develop a culturally-acceptable, shelf-stable animal-source food for children in Kenya whose traditional diets were virtually devoid of meat, and consequently provided less than adequate amounts of several trace minerals, including iron and zinc. The dried meat and potato product, called a Chiparoo, was very acceptable to the Kenyan children who evaluated it.  This nutritious product could be safely processed under conditions existing in rural communities in Kenya using the solar drier that was developed for the nutri-business project. Work continues and an assessment of the feasibility of processing shelf-stable meat-based food products in local Kenyan communities was conducted in July 2009 by Dr. Audrey Maretzki, Professor Emeritus of Food Science and  Nutrition and Edward Mills, Associate Professor of Dairy and Animal Science.


One of the lessons learned from a PSU-led nutri-business project in Kenya in the 1990s was that the “scale-up” from village-based women’s group projects to a full-scale cooperative business venture was plagued by issues of communication, trust and transparency.  This observation led a multi-disciplinary group of faculty facilitated by the Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK), to seek funding from the Social Science Research Institute to conduct an in-depth study of the social and business networks of 26 women agro-entrepreneurs.  Each of these women maintained a produce stall in one of the three markets in Moshii, Tanzania.  Because cell-phones have become ubiquitous in East Africa since the initial Kenya nutri-business cooperative was developed, the Penn State research team focused their attention on the way women agro-entrepreneurs use cell-phones in carrying out their business activities. The study indicated that respondents frequently used cell-phones in their business activities, but these business relationships were limited to individuals they knew and trusted.  An outcome of the Moshii study has been the development of WishVast, a cell-phone-based social networking system that has the potential to reduce barriers to economic sustainability in future nutri-business ventures.

Southern Africa


Dr. Greg Hanson, Professor of Agricultural Economics, in collaboration with Dr. Bob Parsons (University of Vermont), was awarded a 2010 Cochran fellowship to host 5 fellows from Mauritius and South Africa for a 3 week training program. The fellows were trained in all aspects of agricultural credit and finance through field observation, training sessions, and an opportunity to participate in credit analysis with experienced farm lenders. The curricula for the fellows exposed them to credit analysis training interspersed with educational trips to firms specializing in financing for small farms, large commercial farms, cooperatives and agricultural supplier businesses.


Dr. Mike Jacobson, School of Forest Resources, worked on a Ford Foundation funded project in Mozambique and South Africa. The main objective of this project was to assess the factors that promote successful small scale natural product enterprises. This was a 3-year project that ended in 2010, and African partners included Stellenbosch University of South Africa and Eduardo Mondlane University of Mozambique.

Dr. Jonathan Lynch, Department of Horticulture, has been collaborating with the National Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM) to directly address this through the development of genotypes of common bean with superior yield potential in low phosphorus soils. This was a four-year project (2006-2009) funded by the McKnight Foundation. The project had three components – research, training and infrastructure improvement. Collaborative research focused on 1) developing a bean breeding program in Mozambique; 2) generating a better understanding of how specific traits in P-efficient bean varieties affect crop responses to other environmental factors; 3) understanding how P-efficient bean varieties affect agroecosystem productivity and sustainability, and 4) understanding how P-efficient bean varieties affect the physical and economic well-being of rural communities. Three Mozambique nationals were trained at the PhD level under this project, and research facilities including laboratories were constructed at sites in Mozambique as part of the infrastructural improvement initiative.

Dr. Lynch also secured funding for 2009-2011 through the Generation Challenge Program of the CGIAR to expand research into examining the ability of basal root architecture in determining drought tolerance of common bean. This project had three objectives: 1) determine the utility of two specific drought-tolerant root traits under water stress; 2) survey bean germplasm for variation in these traits, to aid breeders in identifying sources and parents, and 3) characterize the genetic control of these traits, and to develop molecular markers. This project was in collaboration with IIAM, as well as with SABRN Malawi (Southern African Bean Research Network) and CIAT.


In November 2008, Duarte Morais and Harry Zinn, PSU faculty in Tourism, Park and Recreation Management, and Audrey Maretzki traveled to Namibia where they were joined by colleagues from the University of Namibia (UNAM) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in conducting a pilot study to assess the impact of community-based conservancies in the Kunene District on attitudes toward wildlife and the perception of quality of life as reflected by Himba, Herero and Damara communities located within conservancy boundaries and similar communities outside the conservancies.  This study followed an earlier women’s nutri-business project that PSU conducted in collaboration with the UNAM Northern Campus in which both Maretzki and Jim Dunn were involved.  Both of these Namibia projects involved the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center for Humanity, Arts and the Environment which recently established an endowment at PSU to advance the study and application of indigenous knowledge.  Involvement of CAS in a PSU/UNAM/WWF collaboration in Namibia contributes to the PSU Parks and People initiative that is currently under development and has led to the drafting of a Letter of Intent with UNAM that was been signed by the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Health and Human Development and Education as well as by AESEDA.

South Africa

CAS participated in a Tertiary Education Linkages Program (TELP) with the University of the North in Limpopo Province.  In August 1999, Dr. Thomas Bruening and Dr. Harry Carey (Agricultural and Extension Education) traveled to South Africa to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment.  A number of extensive interviews were conducted with professors, instructors, students, and administrators at the University.  In addition, field visits were made to several farms to observe some of the outreach projects, including several women gardening projects, cooperative cattle raising, and the school teaching farm.  Information was also collected from extension agents, the Minister of Agriculture in the Northern Province, and the administrator of a satellite campus.  CAS worked with the University of Pittsburgh to implement some of the findings of the needs assessment.


In 1981, Penn State University and Tennessee State University were awarded a ten year, $11 million USAID grant to provide assistance in the design and implementation of an economic plan for Swaziland.  The program involved providing academic degree programs and short-term training for Swazi participants, long and short-term technical assistance and equipment to support the activities.  Dr. Harry Carey, Agriculture and Extensive Education, served two tours as part of the project.  Dr. Carey assisted in establishing a functional information section within the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, including the planning of a building addition with equipment, building alterations, equipment procurement and setup, and the training of staff.  Dr. Carey also initiated a desktop publishing system and provided extensive training to extension field staff and subject matter specialists on communications skills and extension teaching methods.  He also consulted/provided training to MOA and USAID personnel in establishing a desktop publishing and print reproduction system in the Botswana MOA, in Gaborone.


Dr. Michael C. Saunders, Department of Entomology, has been working under a cooperative agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a knowledge based model for use in identifying the social, political, economic, and biophysical characteristics of African communities in order to characterize their capacity to implement community based natural resource management.  In October 2000, Dr. Saunders joined a World Bank delegation in Zambia to participate in the Bank's mid term review of that country's Environmental Support Program.  As part of our charge, we spent considerable time in rural and urban communities, observing and evaluating various community environmental management plans, and in presenting our model to District Environmental Facilitators, District Environmental Committees, and representatives of government ministries.

West Africa


Dr. Leland Glenna (Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education) conducted research in Ghana in collaboration with WARDA (Africa Rice Center), in 2008.  The focus of his research was on the effectiveness of a program to promote rice production among small farmers.