Aug. 29, 2011

CALS International Programs is on the ground in Bangladesh

Cornell collaborations in Bangladesh are helping the South Asian republic combat climate change and develop a strong, self-sufficient agricultural sector, according to the country's prime minister.

Sheikh Hasina commended Cornell's support and expressed a desire for long-term, fruitful engagement in enhancing the sustainable income of resource-poor farmers in the region, during a meeting with representatives from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

Ronnie Coffman, director of CALS International Programs, led a delegation to Dhaka Aug. 17 to meet with Hasina and other high-level government officials, including Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, State Minister for Forests and Environment Hasan Mahmud and Ambassador M. Ziauddin.

Chowdhury had visited Cornell in June to encourage continued collaborations to advance horticulture development in southern regions of Bangladesh prone to stress factors triggered by climate change, particularly drought and saline tolerance.

Cornell's involvement in the region goes back more than a decade.

With support from funding agencies such as U.S. Agency for International Development and the government of Bangladesh, Cornell's International Programs has been intensively engaged with the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) for the last 12 years.

Much of the focus has been in the application of biotechnology to improve capacity and engage in crop improvement. BARI also took the initiative to mitigate the risk of Ug99 in their wheat lines with support from the Cornell-based Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project, by training Bangladesh scientists and testing Bangladesh wheat varieties in Njoro, Kenya.

"Bangladesh, the world's most populous country, faces numerous challenges related to population density and food insecurity, but there is ample reason for hope," Coffman said.

During the meeting, Coffman presented Prime Minister Hasina with an electronic gift: a global repository of research journals compiled by Mann Library known as the Essential Electronic Agricultural Library. The latest release, the 1993-2009 base set, contains nearly 2 million articles from more than 200 leading agricultural and related science journals, and will serve as a resource for Bangladesh scientists. Over the last 10 years, Cornell has supported institutions in many income-eligible countries around the world in building their research collections, primarily because they are assets that countries can access to improve their agriculture and food security.

The agriculture sector of the economy, which contributes 20 percent of the GDP and employs 50 percent of the people in Bangladesh, has been expanding at 4 percent annually, outstripping population growth, which is at 1.4 percent. The country has also achieved near self-sufficiency in terms of the production of its dominant food staple, rice.

Coffman, a professor of plant breeding, said that Cornell has worked closely with BARI scientists on a number of important initiatives, especially Bt Brinjal (eggplant) and late blight resistant potato. Cornell, in association with University of California-Davis and Sathguru Management Consultants of India, will continue to work with BARI and other partners in Bangladesh to address opportunities to enhance access to stress-tolerant fruits and vegetables, Coffman said.

The partnership will also provide opportunities for students from Bangladesh to pursue their exposure at Cornell as part of their education in Bangladesh partner institutions, he added.

Linda McCandless is associate director for communications for CALS International Programs.