International training program promotes sustainable agriculture around the globe

Network News Fall 2014, Vol. 27 No. 3
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For 20 years agricultural scientists, policy makers and program managers have been coming from all over the world to Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) site to study integrated pest management (IPM) and sustainable agriculture practices.

Now Michigan State University (MSU) is turning the tables and taking the highly regarded agriculture program to them.

"We have built a global network and now we are taking the program overseas so that more people can be trained in cost-effective ways," said Dr. Karim Maredia, MSU plant scientist.

"MSU has a long tradition of integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture research and we have accumulated so much knowledge that we think that the world can benefit."

Countries around the world are working to increase the productivity and profitability of their agriculture to feed the growing populations and increase the quality of their lives, he said. The way to achieve those goals is through practices that sustain the gains while protecting the environment, biodiversity, human health and natural resources.

“Ecological approaches are increasingly important as alternatives to conventional agricultural methods that require excessive chemical fertilizers and pesticides and other costs,” notes Phil Robertson, director of the KBS and MSU professor, who has been involved with this program from the start.       

Researchers at the KBS, among the first to begin a long-term study of IPM and sustainable agricultural practices, soon realized that farmers throughout the world could benefit from their inter-disciplinary work.

They recognized that agriculture throughout the world was in the early stages of a new biological revolution that was leading to a greater understanding of biological processes.

Maredia came to MSU is 1989 after working in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) – home of Green Revolution in developing countries. He initially worked at the KBS site.

In 1995 Maredia and the others launched a program to bring agricultural specialists from around the world to KBS and MSU for a two-week short course designed to have them take the practices back home.

Five years later, Maredia said, the program changed its name to Agroecology, IPM and Sustainable Agriculture to reflect the detailed ecological nature of the work.

"Since we started we have had 10 to 15 international participants attend the short-course each year," he said. "Now we want to broaden the course for a larger audience by taking the course to other countries and having some of the participants who were here in the past help us bring in people from their respective regions.

"The world is changing and we are changing in a way we hope will affect a larger audience with less cost."

Maredia said there are already universities in India and Uganda interested in cooperating with MSU.

"This is not a practice that can be taught easily through on-line classes," he said. "It works best when taught face to face. Like global climate change, the need for IPM and sustainable agriculture practices is a global issue."

Adds Robertson, “Extending Michigan research to a global audience has been gratifying and the growth of this program shows its need and effectiveness.”