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Africa University, Clemson, work together on food production

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A UMNS photo from Clemson University

Gloria McCutcheon is an entomologist working with the vegetable-production project in Zimbabwe.
March 16, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Tom Lollis*


Africa University and Clemson (S.C.) University have joined hands to help small farmers in the region improve vegetable production, protect the environment and fight hunger.

Zimbabwe is “a country filled with beautiful people and smiling faces amidst an HIV/AIDs epidemic and poverty,” said Gloria McCutcheon, entomologist at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center at Charleston, S.C. “Many of the people are not receiving the nutrients they need in the form of vegetables.”

McCutcheon, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Orangeburg, S.C., is a principal investigator of a project that began in 2004 and will run through 2009 with support from a $45,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Powell Smith, Clemson Extension vegetable entomologist at Edisto Research and Education Center at Blackville, is co-principal investigator.

“The goal is to help the small farmers increase yields of leafy greens, be good stewards of the environment and produce foods without excessive pesticide residues,” McCutcheon said. During a December 2004 visit to Africa University, she taught students, technicians and farmers how to identify the families of insects that are important in biological control of plant pests, such as the diamondback moth.

“There are more insects that are beneficial to us than those that are pests,” she said. “Many of the beneficials are inconspicuous, move very fast and often spend part of their lives inside pest insects as parasites.”

Common natural enemies of plant pests include ladybird beetles, ground beetles, pirate bugs, lacewings, mantids, spiders, parasitic wasps and flies, plus fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Learning from Africa

Many of the vegetables grown in Zimbabwe, including leafy greens, are similar to what is grown in South Carolina, and the corresponding complex of pests and beneficials is similar. Clemson investigators will search for appropriate beneficial organisms that can be imported to the United States and tested to see whether they can be released here safely to help control pests.

“It’s possible we may also learn some production techniques that could be useful,” McCutcheon said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo from Clemson University

Gloria McCutcheon and graduate student Walter Manyangarirwa examine squash for signs of insects.

During a visit to villages near Mutare, Zimbabwe, she observed some women, “who are the real farmers in Zimbabwe,” spraying crushed marigolds on vegetables to fight pests. She believes there is much to learn about traditional agricultural practices, and much of the knowledge is in Africa.

While at Africa University, a United Methodist-related school in Mutare, McCutcheon noticed the children at the Fairfield Orphanage harvesting greens as food for the university’s cafeteria. The children picked off the “friendly” insects and returned them to the garden to help control pest insects, she said. “They were not using any chemical pesticides in their garden. They were using natural insects to fight off the enemy.”

She points out that it was African slaves who taught the principles of rice production to plantation owners in Charleston in the 1800s, resulting in tremendous wealth for the landowners.

The Africa University-Clemson partnership grew out of a conversation between McCutcheon and the Zimbabwe ambassador during his visit to Florence, S.C., in the 1990s. He had universities with similar missions as Clemson University to extend official invitations to me,” she said. One of the contacts was from M.N. Mphuru, an entomologist who is now deputy vice chancellor at Africa University.

An empowering program

While McCutcheon was on sabbatical leave, James Salley, associate vice chancellor of the Africa University Office of Institutional Advancement, arranged for her to travel to Africa University to visit with the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Together, they developed the collaboration now under way.

“The Clemson/AU partnership is a wonderful collaboration between two institutions that have a shared commitment to help the human condition,” Salley said. “This work is one of the ultimate empowerment stories, a program that will help people to help themselves.”

The Clemson-AU partnership has already produced a graduate student. Walter Manyangarirwa, a member of the agriculture faculty at Africa University, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Entomology, Soils and Plant Sciences at Clemson.

During the summer, he will spend his time at Edisto Research and Education Center working with McCutcheon and Smith. Manyangarirwa will return to Africa University next year, where he will teach students from 25 countries in Africa.

For more than 25 years, McCutcheon, one of a handful of African-American researchers with a doctoral degree in the field of entomology, has conducted outreach and research programs to include students of color who have the potential to pursue graduate degrees.

*Lollis is extension editor for Clemson University’s Edisto Research & Education Center, Blackville, S.C. The article was adapted from a release sent out by Clemson’s PSA Media Relations Department.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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