The Ag2Americas Initiative within Penn State's College of Agricultural develops and promotes collaborative initiatives in the Western Hemisphere through research, education and outreach.

Focus of Initiative

The College of Agricultural Sciences is developing and promoting Penn State's collaborative initiatives in the Americas with an aim to support and promote research, education, and extension initiatives which seek to enrich a greater understanding of the agricultural systems in the Americas as well as to link the ongoing local and global trends in the region.

The Ag2Americas initiative intends to serve as a resource for faculty, cooperative extension, students, staff and administration in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State who are interested in working collaboratively in agricultural related projects with the growing Latino community in the United States of America as well Latin America. Over the past three years, the average annual funding for work in the Americas has increased to $618,510, up from a previous average of $140,026.

Thematic Areas

Currently, Ag2Americas efforts are focused around the following thematic areas

  • Gender
  • Cacao
  • Pest Management
  • Youth and Education
  • Market Development

Projects by Country


Ph.D. Candidate Erika Pioltine is studying issues in citizen participation and
community agencies regarding the Brazilian Social Mobilization Plan, an educational policy reform of 2008 which calls the society to engage towards the
betterment of the quality of education in rural communities in Brazil. Her work has been funded by the Office of International Programs (College of Ag) and the UNESCO Chair for in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Penn State. In addition, she is working in partnership with the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Municipal Secretaries of Education in the local communities she works.

Monica Roa, a Ph.D. student in Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Economics and Operations Research, is working on her dissertation on credit constraints in Colombia.  Specifically, she is researching the impact of credit constraints on exports and how to define a credit market in developing countries.  Early observations indicate that small and medium firms in Colombia have more constraints due to the differences of interest rates and distance to bank offices.  Since distance is a credit barrier, an excessive reliance on cash transactions has increased the cost of business.  Both Penn State and the government in Colombia fund the research.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, Dr. Paige Castellanos investigated the Conditional Cash Transfer
program called Avancemos. The CCT program provides financial support to
low-income families who are then required to send their children to high school.  Dr. Castellanos focused her doctoral research on the economic and education impacts of the program and the gender differences of those outcomes.
To fund her research, Dr. Castellanos received awards from the College of
Agricultural Sciences, the INTAD Competitive Grant, and from the Strategies and
Global Security Scholars program at Penn State.  She was also awarded the Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award in recognition of her project.
Costa Rican institutions providing support to the study included the Instituto
Nacional de Estadistica y Censos (National Institute of Statistics and Censuses) and the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Local (Mixed Social Assistance Institute).


In Ecuador, PhD. student Freddy Magdama is studying the genetic diversity of
the  fungus Fusarium oxysporum associated with Panama Disease in banana. His
research also involves the role of endophytic interactions and the study of
effectors molecules linked to  pathogenicity.  His research involves
collaboration with the National Secretariat of Education of Ecuador (SENESCYT)
and the High Polytechnic School (ESPOL ). His work is under the supervision of
Dr. Maria del Mar Jimenez-Gasco and partially funded by the department of Plant
Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State.


Daniel Foster and Melanie Miller Foster work with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service to provide technical expertise for a series of Integrated Pest Management training in secondary schools in Guatemala.  The team is analyzing pedagogical approaches for the existing training to create a sense of contextual relevancy for secondary students.


Janelle Larson is Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics at Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education Department. She is working in a five-year project along with other researchers from PennState, University of Tennessee, Zamorano University, and Tuskegee University. In their research, they analyze the role of women in agricultural network (WAgN) in Honduras. Specifically, they seek to understand how the horticultural value chain (HVC) can be a mechanism to support equity and empowerment for women, to improve their household nutrition and provide income-generating opportunities.

Through a gender economy perspective, they try to identify technologies, institutions and policies that facilitate small-scale farmers producing horticultural products to improve their household nutrition and to seize other opportunities in the horticultural value chain for entrepreneurs and wage laborers. The goal of the research is to propose policies, regulations, and cultural norms that limit the participation of women and other marginalized groups in the horticultural value chain and attenuate the returns of that participation.

The project is funded by the USAID-support Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC-Davis.  Find out more about the Women in Agriculture Network: Honduras


Dr. Bill Lamont, Professor of Vegetable Crops in the Department of Plant Science, had previous work in Mexico for the Training, Internships, Exchanges, and Scholarships Program (TIES).  The project is designed to help with both job and skills development and to operate in its capacity to aid small farmers.   Key observations from the research indicated the high level of one-on-one interaction and collaboration between crop growers and trainers for a wide variety of vegetable crops.  Funding for the research originated from a partnership of United States and Mexican governors as well as USDA and USAID Grants.  In addition to that, the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and the Gates Foundation provided assistance as well.

Ariel Rivers, Ph.D. student in Entomology and International Agriculture and Development, is currently working on her dissertation on arthropod diversity preservation in conservation agricultural systems in Pennsylvania and Mexico.  Analyzing agricultural practices such as crop rotation, tillage, mulching and other practices, Ariel hopes to answer how these methods protect against crop damage from certain insects by increasing the numbers of predatory arthropods.  In addition to partnering with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, she has received grants from the North East Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (NESARE) Program and the Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program to facilitate the completion of the project.  Early observations indicate that crop rotations and mulching in both locations augment beneficial arthropods and held disrupt pest cycles.


Carla Snyder, the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Marketing Educator at Penn State Extension, works with the Nicaragua Extensionist Program.  A partnership between the Young Growers Alliance and Project Gettysburg Leon, it works to enhance educational resources, mentorship, and agricultural technical assistance for young growers in Nicaragua.  She led a group on a recent trip to the country with young growers from Pennsylvania to exchange technical innovations in the fields of bio-intensive agriculture, animal production and post-harvest storage with Nicaraguan Extensionists.  The partnership has been essential for networking and improving cultural exchange and sharing innovative practices between Nicaraguan and Pennsylvanian farmers.


In Peru, Dr. Dan Tobin studied the dynamics between farmers and companies that existed during value chain development for native potato varieties. In
particular, he looked at how value chains influenced food security and
biodiversity conservation among smallholding farmers. He also investigated the
different perspectives of important value chain actors including farmers, local
government representatives, facilitating NGOs, private companies, and
multilateral research for development organizations like the International
Potato Center. His research was funded by a U.S. Borlaug Fellowship in Global
Food Security, a Graduate Student Competitive Grant from the College of
Agricultural Sciences, and a Graduate International Research Competitive Grant
from the Office of International Programs in the College.

Mauricio Espinoza is a student at Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education department. He is finishing his MS in Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Economics and his field of interest is Development economics in Latin America. Mauricio is studying land market in Peru and the mechanisms through which land inequality is affected. He studies land market at district level, and in his preliminary results, he finds that it contributes to reduce disparities in land access. Mauricio’s research contributes to the debate of land property rights in Latin America and is part of a long-term agenda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Land Reform in Peru. He is collaborating with researchers from Columbia University and GRADE (Grupo de Analisis para el Desarrollo).   

Rosario Castro Bernardini is a student at Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education department. She is pursuing her PhD in Rural Sociology with dual title in Women’s studies. She has been interested in women studies for the last years and her actual research was motivated by her previous collaboration with Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru. Currently, she is interested in studying the impact of Non Traditional Exports (NTAEs) on agricultural workers in Peru, specifically; she analyzes the work family strategies of Peru’s asparagus workers.  In her dissertation, she observes the household tasks and gender dynamics to identify the strategies developed to respond to work-family dilemmas by asparagus wageworkers and interested parties. By comparing small and big producer towns, she points out that in the former (later) towns workers are informal (seasonal) wage, the labor organization is informal (industrial), and there is sexual (even) labor division. Regarding the strategies followed by families, she finds that in big (small) towns the informal childcare services (kin support) alleviates (deteriorates) women labor conditions and families keep seasonal migration (overnight and multiple jobs).  Rosario’s research is funded by Laura Richardson Whitaker Memorial Graduate Award, Francena L. Miller and Michael F. Nolan Graduate Scholarship and Jose de la Torre Award. During her field work she was supported by ICA in Peru.

Carolyn Booth Reyes, graduate student in Rural Sociology and International Agriculture and Development, is researching the impact of the Teacher Career Law passed in Peru that was designed to improve education through a merit-based system of hiring and payment.

Multiple Countries

Dr. Mark Guiltinan has been the leader of research initiatives to study
cacao molecular biology and genetics in collaboration with people and
institutions in Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Colombia. His work
has been funded by multiple sources including NSF, the Bill & Melinda Gates
foundation and an endowment from Penn State.  See more from Dr. Guiltinan on his webpage.

Dr. David Abler, Professor of Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Economics and Demography, completed research on child labor in Mexico, Peru, and Chile.  The research aimed to illustrate how the economies and educational policies in each country impacted child attendance in school.  Many challenges confront impoverished rural areas such as in Mexico where about one-fifth of household income comes from child labor.  Six Penn State graduate students assisted in the project in a collaborative effort with the universities they previously attended in Latin America.  The Ford Foundation provided funds for the graduate student training for the project and the Hewlett Foundation provided funds for the research component of the project.  In data spanning a long period of time, results from the work presented the direct impact that poverty had on school attendance with poorer areas more likely to have secondary school dropouts and young farm workers.

Nicole Webster is Associate Professor of Youth and International Development at Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education Department. Her scholarly research interests centers around two themes. The first is the development of young persons with an emphasis on empowerment, engagement, and informal work and other social integration strategies. Much of her work focuses on youth populations within an urban context. The second area of interest is in community development especially within the Latin American and Caribbean region. She is developing these topics in Nicaragua and, Trinidad and Tobago. In Nicaragua, she investigates the workforce development and entrepreneurship of coastal communities. Currently, she is engage in two specific projects. In the first, she is studying the strategies to improve teaching pedagogy in the classrooms in Managua, the capital city of the country. In the second project, she analyzes the civic participation of afrolatins and indigenous inhabitants from Bluefields, a South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. The results suggest that programs of NGO’s play an important role for empower and engage isolated coastal communities in civic groups that contribute to increase their visualization. Fullbright and USAID fund these projects. Regarding the research in Trinidad and Tobago, her activities include the support for the development of the agricultural research program at The University of Trinidad and Tobago, and the collaboration with academic and non-academic institution for the construction of a database that captures the engagement of young people in society. This ambitious data aligns with others carried in Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada, and from its analysis, researchers and policymakers will be able to address short and long-term policies for the successful inclusion of young people in the workforce.  

The USAID-funded innovATE project works to achieve sustainable food security, reduce poverty, promote rural innovation and stimulate employment by building human and institutional capacity.  The program focuses on all aspects of agricultural training and education.  Researchers at Penn State have taken the lead on the gender-focused aspect of the larger project.  Find out more about the InnovATE project.

The mission of the PSU Global Teach Ag! Initiative is to develop capacity in agriscience teachers and agriscience education programs for global impact in food, fiber, and natural resources through youth development and education programming.  The initiative is involved in research related to formal and non-formal agricultural education in several locations in Latin America including Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica.


Would you like your project featured here?  Contact Melanie Miller Foster for more information.