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UW soil scientist receives Borlaug award for leadership in agriculture

Wyoming

A soil science doctoral student at the University of Wyoming has received a prestigious Norman Borlaug award for leadership in agriculture. UW soil scientist receives Borlaug award for leadership in agriculture

Eusebius Mukhwana of Kenya was notified of the honor from The Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program. Nobel Laureate Norman E. Borlaug was the driving force behind the establishment of the World Food Prize in 1985. That award is given annually in recognition of outstanding human achievements in the fields of food production and nutrition.

Mukhwana, in the Department of Renewable Resources in the College of Agriculture, already has a list of accomplishments for his efforts to bolster agricultural efforts in Africa.¬  In 1997, he helped found the Sustainable Agriculture Centre for Research and Development in Africa (SACRED Africa). For information, see sacredafrica.org/sacredafrica.org/mukhwana-profile.html. He was head of the center for 10 years then decided to study at UW.

Mukhwana said arid Wyoming with its high elevations is a test platform similar to conditions in Africa. His research at UW involves working with nine wheat farmers in the Slater and Albin areas of southeastern Wyoming and five sugar beet producers near Powell in the northwest.¬  Mukhwana and his adviser, Assistant Professor Jay Norton, are tracking the long-term effects of producers using a variety of cropping systems and irrigation methods. An article about the research is in the 2009 Reflections magazine available from the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station in the College of Agriculture.

"It is a prestigious award, a fantastic opportunity to extend his Wyoming research to needs of Kenyan farmers, and a reflection of the caliber of his work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Kenya," said Norton of the Borlaug notification.

Mukhwana hopes the Borlaug honor, which carries a $20,000 monetary award, enables him to apply his research to help farmers in Kenya. He had worked as a veterinarian in Kenya before turning to soil science and said he is keenly aware of how privileged he's been to receive an education.

"Out of 100 in Kenya, three go on to a university and to a degree," he said. "I ask myself, after I am so privileged, 'How do I use it?' Maybe try and help and improve the situation there. We have African students who come here and become professors, and that's the end of it. I don't consider running away an option. We have an obligation to use that knowledge to improve the welfare and life of those 800 million people in Africa, half of which live in poverty, hunger and malnutrition."

For more than 10 years, Mukhwana has been interested in the impact of agriculture on agro-ecosystems. Fifteen years into a veterinary career, he realized his interest was working with soils, farmers and developing marketing.

"I wanted to get back to the origin of life in agriculture, and that is where soils come in," he said.

More than two-thirds of Africa is arid, and most agriculture is small-scale with people farming to feed themselves. What little is left is sold for income.

African soils are old and mostly leeched with few nutrients, he said.

"You already start with a problem," he said, "then you farm those soils in high elevations and you prompt soil erosion and cut down the trees that hold the soil. What you end up with is a lot of soils going down the rivers."

Simply adding fertilizer is not a solution, he said. African farmers pay three to four times more for fertilizer, and no organic matter is put back in the soil. Maize stalks, rather than put back in the soil, are used for firewood or for cattle feed.

Compounding the situation is a growing population, the subdivision of land into smaller parcels and the use of low-yielding seed coupled with disorganized markets.

"For me, I see a disaster waiting to happen," he said.

The Borlaug LEAP (http://leap.ucdavis.edu/) is a fellowship program funded by the U.S.¬  Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance the quality of thesis research of graduate students from developing countries who show strong promise as leaders in the field of agriculture and related disciplines, according to its Web site.LEAP is part of the overall Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



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