COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Denis Kyetere and Bernard Bashaasha are prime examples of what happens when U.S. universities build international bridges to promote agricultural productivity, food security and economic stability.
Kyetere and Bashaasha, both from Uganda, Africa, took the opportunity to acquire a Ph.D. from Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences as participants in capacity-building projects administered by the college's International Programs in Agriculture. They now credit their education at Ohio State as being instrumental in their career development and helping to strengthen their country's economy. Both have sustained their link with Ohio State over the years through the partnerships they formed with their American counterparts.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if not for the education I received at Ohio State University," said Kyetere. "The American education system laid a strong foundation for what I needed to accomplish in Uganda."
Before coming to Ohio State University in the 1990s on the Manpower for Agricultural Development Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to pursue a degree in agronomy, Kyetere was a senior research officer and maize breeder in Uganda. During his Ohio State education, he was part of a research team that identified and mapped the first resistance gene of maize streak virus, one of the most destructive corn viruses in the world.
Today, Kyetere is director general of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda, a position equivalent to the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also a chairperson of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) -- an umbrella organization that brings together stakeholders on topics pertaining to African agricultural research and development.
"To go from a mere science officer to director general of Africa's leading agricultural organization following my educational experiences at Ohio State University is a great achievement," said Kyetere.
As director general of NARO, Kyetere has fostered collaboration with African academic institutions, research centers and farmers to generate and promote the development of new agricultural technologies; revitalized the Coffee Research Institute; and provided leadership in the research of plant diseases, such as coffee wilt disease.
Like Kyetere, Bernard Bashaasha has been an instrument of change in Uganda since he acquired his Ph.D. at Ohio State in agricultural economics.
"The education I received at Ohio State University was very difficult, but it was useful and enlightening," said Bashaasha. "It provided the foundation for my career."
Bashaasha came to Ohio State on the Agricultural Research and Training Project, funded through the International Programs office by the World Bank. Before then, he was a lecturer in agricultural economics at Makerere University in Uganda. Upon his return from the United States, Bashaasha was catapulted to senior lecturer and head of his department. He subsequently went about rebuilding the department, launching programs in business management and agribusiness and supporting Ph.D. programs that have boosted graduates from one to 10, with five more soon to complete their programs.
Bashaasha still collaborates with his Ohio State adviser Dave Kraybill on a variety of projects including curriculum design and programs involving the education system in Uganda.
"My relationship with Ohio State University has not diminished since I graduated," said Bashaasha. "Program development roars on. It benefits agriculture, the economy and the environment. It's important for Uganda."
Kyetere and Bashaasha were recently recognized for their achievements with Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences International Alumni Award. Both made the trip from Uganda to receive the award.
"I didn't even know such an award existed, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was nominated. I asked, ‘Are you sure you have the right person?'" said Bashaasha. "You think that once you graduate, you leave this place and you maintain contacts, but that's it. But it's much broader than that and this honor sort of reinforces the relationship I have with Ohio State University and challenges me to do more."
Added Kyetere, "I'm humbled and excited to receive such an award. It's something I certainly didn't expect," he said. "It makes me feel good and proud to be part of an institution that is a part of my contributions and is engaged globally in its educational efforts."
Ohio State's International Programs in Agriculture strives to strengthen scientific and technological capacities of countries facing such development constraints. In the case of Africa, International Programs in Agriculture has been leading efforts for over four decades to build local capacity through degree training and to sustain international agriculture and rural development partnerships.