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February 27, 2007

CEFS team presents at Mexico symposium

Four North Carolina State University Center for Environmental Farming Systems research agriculturalists and The Rodale Institute’s research director, Dr. Paul Hepperly, presented exceptionally well-received lectures at a recent international symposium at Mexico’s leading undergraduate agricultural university.

CEFS develops environmentally, economically and socially sustainable farming systems through long-term interdisciplinary research.

The Fourth International Agroecology Seminar at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, Texcoco, Mexico, provided a forum for CEFS researchers and those from agricultural universities in Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Cuba to discuss interdisciplinary agroecological and sustainable agriculture research design and strategies. More than 200 Mexican students and educators participated in the mid-October week of marathon information exchange sessions at UACh.

Agroecology is the interdisciplinary study of ecological interactions within agricultural ecosystems.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences presenters included CALS Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator Dr. Paul Mueller and agroecology course development pioneer and ecologist Dr. Michelle Schroeder, both of the Department of Crop Science; Dr. Jean-Marie Luginbuhl, animal science and crop science departments member and Bryan Green, CEFS small farm unit manager. All delivered their talks in Spanish, as did Rodale’s Hepperly.

Mueller, who led the group, is the College’s sustainable agriculture and CEFS Farming Systems Research Unit coordinator. Schroeder directs the agroecology minor program; Lughinbuhl develops sustainable meat goat forage/ browse-based feeding and management systems. Luginbuhl and Green’s post-seminar workshops were so popular they presented twice.

Mueller and Dr. Mike Linker developed the College’s initial agroecology course, first offered in 1999. In 2004-5, the Crop Science Department hired Dr. Michelle Schroeder and added several courses as part of a newly established agroecology concentration within the crop science major, as well as a new agroecology minor.

Schroeder notes that while few agroecology programs exist at U.S. universities, the University of Chapingo’s program houses more than 300 students. “We were privileged to interact with the dedicated faculty and students and help them celebrate their 15th anniversary as an agroecology program,” she says.

In fact, says Hepperly, UACh is a birthplace of agroecology and is increasing its research, education and outreach to communities in need.

“Mexico,” he says, “has assumed world leadership in organic, free trade and shade-grown coffee, and has more organic farmers than any other country. Increasingly, re-invigorating traditional mixed farming as practiced in Mexico is seen as the remedy to declining rural revenue and the flight of rural Mexicans to the north.”

The CEFS-UACh partnership is growing its own history.

“During the last few years,” says Green, “we have hosted five interns from Chapingo’s agroecology department, with Mexican students living, working and studying with U.S. students from all over the country. All students deepened their understanding of sustainable agriculture from a more profound international perspective, learning about its political, economic and social aspects.”

Chapingo students, who work with community-based development programs throughout Mexico and at two on-campus field research sites – in agroecology and organic production -- also experienced such activities as the management of organic production of vegetables and small fruits and small animal husbandry, and outreach programs into immigrant communities and nearby Goldsboro, Green says.

“As a result,” says Mueller, “these students impressed our faculty with their knowledge of sustainable agriculture principles and practices, their strong work ethic and their interest and commitment to working with local communities.”

“Mexico and the United States are intrinsically linked,” Hepperly adds, “and we discussed the need for formalizing a collaborative relationship between our research, educational and outreach programs to permit a strong mutually beneficial development between us. We are two wings from the same dove.”

Mueller agrees. “We look forward,” he says, “to strengthening our relationship with scientists and students from the University of Chapingo's Agroecology Department.”

N.C. State’s forum participation was funded through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP), managed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. CRSPs focus U.S. land grant universities’ capabilities to carry out the U.S. government’s international food and agricultural research mandate, according to a U.S. AID Web site.

Posted by Art at February 27, 2007 07:35 AM