After three days in Kenya, Tuinstra and the DuPont collaborators flew to Bamako, Mali, where they met officials from IER (Institut d’Economie Rurale du Mali), a national agriculture research institute, and ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). The group visited field trials demonstrating herbicide seed treatments. Heavy rains had compromised the studies, and the tests looked terrible, Tuinstra says.
Mali was just the first stop on a 2,000-mile West Africa road trip. The group drove east to Burkina Faso to visit local seed producers in its second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, before visiting the capital of Ouagadougou. There, Tuinstra and his collaborators met with officials from INERA (Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles), a national public body organized to formulate, implement and coordinate environmental and agricultural research. INERA conducted tests of Striga-resistant and herbicide-treated sorghum seeds. In contrast to the test plots in Mali, the experiments in Burkina Faso looked excellent.
The group next drove to Niger’s capital, Niamey, to meet researchers with INRAN (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger), the nation’s main agricultural research and development agency. The van was crippled by contaminated fuel in Niamey and was replaced by a Land Rover provided by INRAN. They drove to test plots at Birni N’Konni, where Tuinstra was pleased to see outstanding results. His compare-and-contrast photos — a row of puny sorghum awash in Striga flowers next to a robust row absent of the blooms — document the experiment’s success.
Tuinstra and the group returned to Niamey for a flight back to Bamako and on to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and Accra, Ghana. Accra is home to the West Africa branch office of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). Established in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, AGRA has taken the lead in trying to develop the agricultural economy in Africa, Tuinstra explains.
Cultural, political, social obstacles abound
A logical next step would be to incorporate emerging seed companies into the economy, no small feat in a culture in which most farmers save or share seeds. Add in a myriad of political and social obstacles — “things that have nothing to do with science,” Tuinstra says — and one begins to understand his guarded optimism that his seed technology will someday help the people who need it most. “This is one tool in the toolkit,” he says. “My piece is a very small part of a complicated story.”
Tuinstra carries photos of his own children, ages 10, 7 and 5, to show to African children, and he shoots pictures of African children to show his kids and their classmates. He also carries a few Purdue hats and pens as gifts. In addition to his research at the university, he speaks to nonprofit and church groups about Africa and its specific needs, such as building wells.
Although this year’s data hasn’t been processed yet — Tuinstra’s previous findings have been accepted for publication in Crop Science — “this was a highly productive trip,” he says. “We had two good experiments that showed the efficacy of seed treatments. We strengthened links with local seed and ag-chem industry representatives. We saw a lot of interest among local researchers. And our industry collaborators were excited about the impact this could have on people who need it most, the poorest of the poor.”
His passion fits Purdue’s strategy
Tuinstra’s work is in line with one goal of the six-year strategic plan that the Purdue’s trustees
approved in June: “Meeting global challenges by enhancing Purdue’s presence and impact in addressing grand challenges of humanity.” A key component of the plan is to establish “signature programs abroad; become a national role model for global partnerships with impact.”
“Although much of our research and teaching is focused on addressing issues here in Indiana, there are times when technology developed in the U.S. can be adapted to address food-production and security issues in other parts of the globe,” Tuinstra says.
“A global university such as Purdue has linkages and collaborative engagements with a variety of international institutions. These programs add great value to our educational efforts at Purdue, and our students benefit from the interaction.
“We feel good as a public institution about serving domestic interests. This is an opportunity to have global impact.
Contact Tuinstra at firstname.lastname@example.org