COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tanzania, a country of 42 million nestled on the east coast of Africa, is undergoing a sea change demographically.
Currently, about one-third of Tanzanians live below the poverty line, and more than 4 of 10 Tanzanian children suffer from stunting due to malnutrition. By 2050, Tanzania's population is anticipated to double, and its urban population will exceed its rural population.
To keep pace with these demographic changes and to reduce high rates of malnutrition, agricultural productivity will need to increase.
That's one reason why Tanzania is a focus country of Feed the Future, the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative of the U.S. government.
And it's why eight Tanzanians are currently enrolled in advanced degree programs in Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and dozens more are studying at five partner land-grant universities and at African institutions as part of the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative Project funded by Agency for International Development (USAID), which is part of Feed the Future, and led by Ohio State.
The primary goal of the project is to improve the food security and agricultural productivity of Tanzania by building the capacity of Tanzania's Sokoine University of Agriculture and its Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, in part by providing agricultural degree training for as many as 100 Tanzanian graduate students through 2016.
Half of these students will be trained at Ohio State or at partner land-grant institutions: University of Florida, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Tuskegee University and Virginia Tech. The other half will be placed locally at Tanzania's Sokoine University of Agriculture and other universities in East and Southern Africa through RUFORUM, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture.
"Although we will be sending some technical people to Tanzania to provide assistance in the agricultural sector, building their capacity to do agricultural research and teaching through degree training is more sustainable,” said Mark Erbaugh, the grant's principal investigator and director of Ohio State's Office of International Programs in Agriculture. "The degree training will stick. To me, it's one of the most valuable parts of this project. It's the gift that keeps on giving, because these students will keep on producing long after the project is over."
Erbaugh is excited about the prospects for the students. For example, one doctoral candidate is studying rice blast, a serious disease of rice -- one of Tanzania's key crops. His Ohio State adviser is Guo-Liang Wang, who has been recognized internationally for his work in studying host resistance to fungal and bacterial pathogens in rice. "He (the student) couldn't be working with anyone better, anywhere, than Guo-Liang Wang," Erbaugh said.
The master's degree students studying in the U.S. do one year of coursework at the American institution and then return home to do their research. Those students have advisers both at their American institution and at Sokoine University, and each team has been meeting by video conference on a regular basis, Erbaugh said.
To streamline distance communication efforts, the project equipped a video conference room at Sokoine University that is used by the returning students.
"We would even like the students to defend their thesis by video conferencing," Erbaugh said. He credits the work of Dave Kraybill, an Ohio State development economics professor who is the project director in Tanzania and has been living there since July 2011, for increasing the effectiveness of video conferencing.
“We are quite fortunate to have someone as knowledgeable of Tanzania and food security issues as Kraybill leading this effort," Erbaugh said.
In another of the project's distance education efforts, 43 Tanzanian students received training in February to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), required to enter graduate school in the U.S., and the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The training was broadcast live from the campus of Ohio State, and participants were able to interact with the workshop's leaders. The result: Significantly higher exam scores than Tanzanian students earned in 2011, leading to a higher rate of success in placing the students at U.S. universities in 2012.
The degree-training portion of the project will also help with another of the project's goals, Erbaugh said: Strengthening the capacity of Sokoine University to implement instructional, research and outreach programs in agriculture.
"This is fundamental to food security," Erbaugh said. He's already seen this at work from previous collaborations. For example, professor Adipala Ekwamu, a Ugandan who earned his doctorate in plant pathology at Ohio State in 1992, leads RUFORUM, which is a key partner in the current project.
Now, to bolster agricultural research at those institutions, the project is taking proposals for a competitive grants program in which Tanzanian agricultural researchers will work on two-year projects with their counterparts at one of the six partnering land-grant universities in the U.S.
The projects led by Kraybill and the project coordinator, David Hansen,will focus on key research areas to improve Tanzanian food security, which were identified in a needs assessment conducted in 2011. Hansen is the former director of Ohio State's International Programs in Agriculture.
"We needed to be sure these projects were driven by Tanzanian needs, not our own particular interests," Erbaugh said.
Also key to the project is the development and nurturing of long-term relationships between agricultural educators in the U.S. and Tanzania.
"Partnerships are like friendships," Erbaugh said. "They're built on trust and they take time. And this is what is required if we want to be a land-grant university to the world."
For more information on this and other projects in Africa by Ohio State’s Office of International Programs in Agriculture, see http://cfaes.osu.edu/international/worldwide-projects/africa.