Ongoing activities

Image courtesy of Scan Africa, 2012.

Image courtesy of Scan Africa, 2012.

The following summarizes ongoing activities of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences in Africa:




In Spring 2013, as part of a special joint USDA-USAID Borlaug program, Penn State hosted 10 female Feed the Future fellows at the University Park campus for 8-12 week training programs in food safety, entrepreneurship and value-chain addition. These fellows came from five countries - Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda. A post-fellowship workshop will be held for all West African fellows and their Penn State mentors in August 2014 in Accra, Ghana. This will enable Penn State faculty and mentors to follow-up and develop future plans for collaborative research.

East Africa


ICIPE and honey bees

Dr. Jim Tumlinson (Entomology) is working with African collaborators at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, on a 2010 grant from the National Science Foundation and Gates Foundation under the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program. This 3-year funded project is surveying native honey bees in Kenya and characterizing the distribution of parasitic Varroa mites, viruses and other pathogens that have an important effect on honey bee health. The long-term goal of the project is to develop protocols for sustainable, nonchemical beekeeping practices and to minimize threats to this ecologially and agriculturally critical species.

CYEC-JKUAT ecovillage

In 2009, CAS signed a MoU with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.  The agreement was initiated to facilitate a broad, interdisciplinary project to work together to address some of the agricultural and rural development challenges in Kenya.  The partnership also involves Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Kenya.  In summer 2009, Penn State (under the leadership of our College) sent a group of 39 students and faculty members as a culmination of two semesters' activities in humanitarian design and social entrepreneurship.  There were three projects--the development of a system of Eco-Villages to facilitate the reintegration of former street children into society, a web-based system to improve access to healthcare, and a cell-phone based network to build social capital. Dr. Sjoerd Duiker, Department of Plant Science, and Dr. Janelle Larson, Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education, worked on the eco-village project in Lamuria, central Kenya. This project is built around sustainable practices: energy, water, housing, and agriculture. Prototypes of individual technologies such as rainwater harvesters and biodiesel generators were built at Nyeri, and the prospective future 40-acre site in the semi-arid region of Lamuria was visited. Drs. Larson and Duiker have returned with more students and Penn State extension educators in summer 2010, 2011 and 2012 to conduct community assessments and initiate income generating activities in Lamuria, including beekeeping and hay production. The project envisions an eco-village constructed from locally available resources and economically self-sustaining, generating employment, income and entrepreneurial opportunities to youth, and a sustainable and attractive alternative to urban life.


In 2014, Sjoerd Duiker, Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Science, obtained a 2.5-yr grant from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service to train and mentor destitute youth in Kenya in haybaling as a custom business. Beginning in 2009, Penn State undergraduate students enrolled in a service learning class helped identify haybaling as a potential business opportunity for youth at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri, near Mt. Kenya. Sjoerd found appropriate, hand operated mowing and baling equipment that could be locally made and trained 15 youth in mowing techniques and baler manufacture in December 2011. In 2012, a team of three youth created Zawadi Agritech Haybaling. Since then they made thousands of bales for local farmers, who pay them for each bale they make. The USDA-FAS grant allows formation, training, and mentoring of 10 additional haybaling teams at the Zawadi Youth Enterprise Program in Nyeri County and at two other youth centers: Joy Homes in Naivasha, Nakuru County and the Terry Child Support and Youth Resource Center in Machakos, Machakos County. In addition, it allows testing of new mowing and baling equipment to improve profitability. The project is developing training capacity and materials for Thunguma Youth Polytechnic in Nyeri. It benefits rural youth by giving them an opportunity to create their own business, and contribute to improving dairy production by alleviating feed constraints. The project is expected to contribute to a reversal of the rural-urban exodus by making small-scale agriculture profitable and attractive, which helps meet the goals of the U.S. Feed-the-Future strategy for Kenya by strengthening the dairy value chain and by engaging youth in farming, processing and trading. The project develops the capacity of Kenyan polytechnical schools by developing and implementing haymaking curriculum.


Hydrocephalus - Mbarara University of Science and Technology

Dr. Linguine Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, is working under the lead of Dr. Steven Schiff, Brush Chair Professor of Engineering and Director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering along with Dr. Abinash Padhi a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology to study hydrocephalus in Ugandan children in attempts to better understand the causes of the disease so that it may be more easily prevented in the future. The study examines the source of neonatal infections by studying the living environment of affected persons. The researchers are also forming an African Hydrocephalus Consortium with Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia and working with the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in southwest Uganda to conduct follow-up trials. Other Penn State researchers on the project include Dr. Bhushan Jayaro, Director of the Animal Diagnostic Lab and Professor of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, as well as, Dr. Vivek Kapur, Head of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and Dr. Mary Poss, Professor of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.

Hay-baling - Makerere University


Sjoerd Duiker, associate professor of soil management and applied soil physics, and Ephraim Govere, research support associate and manager of the University's Soil Research and Cluster Laboratory, are part of a joint Penn State-Ugandan team that was awarded seed funding for their project "Youth Employment and Income Enhancement Project: Haymaking as a Business Opportunity". Other team members are Michael Kansiime and John Kabasa from the African Institute for Strategic Animal Resource Services and Development (AFRISA), a center at Uganda’s Makerere University. The project, with funding through the Global Knowledge Initiative's Africa Collaboration Colloquium held in 2012, brings together expertise in hands-on skills building in value addition and entrepreneurship from AFRISA with a hay-baling business incubator that Penn State started with the Zawadi Youth Enterprise, a community organization in Nyeri, Kenya. The project recently received recognition from the Ugandan government's Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries for their work in engaging youth in hay-baling skill development.

Southern Africa


Ichthyology - Bunda College, University of Malawi

Dr. Jay Stauffer, School of Forest Resources, conducts both teaching and research in Malawi.  Dr. Stauffer holds an adjunct appointment of Professor at the University of Malawi and has taught ichthyology to help train African students in cataloging, managing and conserving the unique resources of Lake Malawi.  The focus of the research in Malawi is on Schistosomiasis, a debilitating parasitic disease caused by trematodes of the genus Schistosoma, which now occurs in 74 countries and is ranked second to malaria as a cause of human morbidity by a parasitic agent.  Dr. Stauffer's data demonstrate that the dramatic decrease in snail-eating fishes in the open waters of Lake Malawi from 1978 to 1994 was correlated to the increase in schistosomiasis reported along the shoreline of Lake Malawi.  Furthermore, Dr. Stauffer has begun to train Malawian divers to identify key spawning sites of these fishes and convince local chiefs to implement sound fisheries management strategies to increase populations of these important fishes.  This biological control of schistosomiasis using native fishes can be expanded to other areas throughout Africa.

Maize root traits - Bunda College, University of Malawi

Dr. Jonathan Lynch received a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and Gates Foundation under the 2010 Basic Research to Enhance Agricultural Development (BREAD) program. This 3-year project supports a collaboration to develop maize varieties with root traits that will enhance plants' abilities to acquire water and other soil resources while reducing the metabolic cost of soil exploration to the plants. This project is being conducted in partnership with Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Iowa State University. This contribution towards maize research is designed to lead to increased food security for hungry households across southern Africa.


Diffusion networks - IIAM

Dr. Rachel Smith, in collaboration with Dr. Jill Findeis (U-Missouri, formerly Penn State), is working with the Socioeconomic Unit of IIAM (Mozambique’s national agricultural research institute) on diffusion networks for the low-P legume and evolution-proof malaria cloths. The project is based at 8 sites at Sussundenga, Angonia, Gurue and Lichinga. Training has been conducted of IIAM socioeconomic team members in GIS and network analysis. She is also preparing training materials in GIS and network analysis for members of the other projects that are part of the South-Eastern Africa McKnight Community of Practice.

Common bean drought and low nutrient stress - Pulse CRSP

Since 2008, Dr. Lynch has continued his research work on common bean in Mozambique through collaborating with the Dry-Grain Pulse CRSP (Collaborative Research Support Program) led by Michigan State University. This project has four main objectives: 1) to develop bean genotypes with improved tolerance to drought and low P; 2) to develop integrated crop management systems for stress tolerant bean genotypes; 3) to understand constraints to adoption of new bean technologies, income and nutrition potential, and intra-household effects and impacts, and 4) to increase the capacity, effectiveness and sustainability of agriculture research institutions which serve the bean and cowpea sectors in developing countries.

South Africa

Forestry - Stellenbosch

Since 2007, Dr. Mike Jacobson has taught one day courses at Stellenbosch University, near Cape Town, for industry on Forest Finance and Economics. He also teaches a graduate course on the same subject. Dr. Jacobson is also an Extraordinary Professor at Stellenbosch (similar to being an adjunct) and has been on a number of graduate student committees there. He also did a sabbatical there in 2007, working on forest industry issues.

Root biology @ Ukulima, Limpopo - Buffett Foundation

Dr. Jonathan Lynch has a Howard G. Buffett Foundation grant to develop a farm in Limpopo Province, South Africa, as a research platform for the generation of new maize and bean varieties adapted to the common southern and eastern African constraints of drought and low soil fertility. Project participants also include IIAM, CIAT, Zamorano University of Honduras, and the University of Wisconsin. The project objectives include: 1) the testing and evaluation of maize varieties for tolerance to drought and low soil nitrogen availability; 2) the discovery of parent lines and genetic markers for genes controlling root traits for superior soil stress tolerance in maize; 3) the testing and evaluation of common bean varieties for tolerance to drought, low soil nitrogen availability and low soil phosphorus availability; 4) the testing and evaluation of integrated crop management systems, and 5) the development of regional collaboration networks among agricultural researchers. Agricultural activities began in the 2009-2010 season, and now involve research from Dr. Lynch's 2010 NSF/Gates Foundation BREAD grant, with partners Bunda College of Agriuclture, University of Malawi, and the University of Wisconsin.

Youth development

In collaboration with teachers and government ministry officials (in agriculture and education) in Limpopo Province, Nicole Webster (Dept. of Ag Economics, Sociology and Education) is launching a youth development project in three pilot schools in the Limpopo area in 2012.  In addition, the Universities of Limpopo and Venda are assisting in the launch of this project to incorporate graduate students who could use this project as a platform for field research and thesis topic research. The first phase of the project will commence in late August 2012, consisting of training and a series of focus groups with teachers (led by university students) to gather informative content for program delivery and implementation.  This information will inform the development of the curriculum for the students and subsequent teacher training. 


Youth engagement - UNESCO

Penn State works in parternship with the National University of Ireland, Galway's UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement at the Child and Family Research Centre, Foróige, the Irish National Youth Development Organization and the Alan Kerins Projects, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in their work in Zambia and southeastern Africa. Through the work of these partners and PSU researchers, including Dr. Mark Brennan, Associate Professor of Leadership and Community Development in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, the overarching aim of this work is to further the long standing commitment of UNESCO to address the challenges facing youth and to foster young people's participation in the development of their societies, with an initial focus on Zambia where each organization has well-established links. The partnership is currently developing a model for a youth centre, which integrates youth work and sport. Using sport as the initial medium to reach out to young people, the youth centre will provide a forum for youth to actively participate in a range of activities that extend beyond sport, including active citizenship and youth leadership programs and life skills training. The partnership also works closely with the University of Zambia to further facilitate access, sharing and adaptation of knowledge.

Bean breeding

In 2011, Kennedy Muimui, the National Coordinator for the bean breeding program for the government of Zambia, based at the Misamfu Regional Research Station, spent 3 months at Penn State as a USDA-FAS Borlaug fellow. His fellowship involved working closely with the Lynch lab in root biology - breeding bean varieties with more efficient roots. Kennedy returned to Zambia at the conclusion of his fellowship and a representative from the Lynch lab will be following up with him in Zambia for further collaborative work in late 2012.

West Africa


Sweet potato - Horticulture CRSP

In 2012, CAS faculty, including Dr. Tom Gill, Dr. Leland Glenna, Dr. Janelle Larson and Dr. Sjoerd Duiker, received a Horticulture CRSP focus project grant in collaboration with Tuskegee University and several Ghanaian partners (including the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute, the University of Ghana and the University of Development Studies) to work on orange and purple-fleshed sweet potato. The project, "STOPS: Sustainable Technologies for Orange and Purple Sweet potatoes in Ghana", will run for 2.5 years and takes a whole systems approach, building on earlier sweet potato work conducted by Tuskegee. Penn State's role in STOPS includes gauging rural household interest in and understanding best practices of sweet potato production, and conducting sweet potato value chain assessments. The project focuses on the Northern and Upper West regions of Ghana.

Cacao biotech - CIRAD

The College’s work in Africa involves technology transfer of biotechnology methods for cacao improvement in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Under the direction of Dr. Mark Guiltinan, Director of the American Cocoa Research Institute Program in the Molecular Biology of Cacao, we have stationed a postdoctoral scholar in Ghana to work with local cacao researchers setting up plant biotechnology laboratories.  This work contributes to the ongoing USAID Sustainable Tree Crops Program.  The goal is to contribute to cacao improvement via development of fast propagation methods for cacao and extend transfer efforts to include Nigeria and Cameroon. This research was boosted in 2010 with the receipt of a Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program grant through the National Science Foundation and Gates Foundation. In collaboration with Virginia Tech, which is the lead institution on the project, Dr. Guiltinan aims to develop and test two novel methods for achieving plant resistance to fungal diseases. Promising techniques will be applied to cacao, but could ultimately be applicable to a broad array of fungal diseases of rice, wheat and other crops important to the developing world. An international team of scientists, including Dr. Guiltinan and headed by Claire Lanaud of the French based Agricultural Research for Development Organization (CIRAD) have sequenced the DNA of a variety of Theobroma cacao, which is known to produce some of the world’s highest quality chocolate. The project has also identified a variety of gene families that could lead to the development of healthier and more productive cacao trees. Breeding a disease resistant variety of the high quality cacao plant would make high quality chocolate easier and more profitable for West African farmers to grow. The team further believes that it may even be able to enhance the taste of high quality cocoa beans by focusing on discovered genes that deal with flavonoids.


Participatory plant breeding - ICRISAT

Kristal Jones, a current doctoral student in Rural Sociology, is working on research surrounding participatory plant breeding (PPB) in West Africa. PPB programs often combine local/regional indigenous knowledge with established or innovative scientific principles. Kristal has conducted research through her work with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is a part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); primarily focusing her research on pearl millet and sorghum crops and on how to realize and promote the inclusion of indigenous knowledge within the research process.


Environmental microbiology - Ahmadu Bello University

Dr. Mary Ann Bruns, an Associate Professor of Soil Microbiology, received a grant from the American Society for Microbiology to travel to Nigeria in spring 2011 where she taught environmental microbiology at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). While at the university, Dr Bruns mentored doctoral candidate Nkechi Eche for 10 weeks as a visiting professor. The connection was made through ABU professor Joshua Ogunwole who was a Fulbright visiting scholar at Penn State in 2010. Dr Bruns hopes to establish a research collaboration on indigenous biological amendments with the goal of seeking improvements in the area of soil productivity.