BHEARD program provides training for those who will help feed future generations worldwide
Susan Otieno, a second-year doctoral candidate at MSU, and a dozen of her colleagues traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, last October for the World Food Prize, an international gathering that recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
As she listened to the different discussions at the event, Otieno – a Kenyan studying plant breeding genetics and biotechnology at Michigan State University – became more convinced of the need to embrace and integrate women into leadership positions in order to spur innovation and agricultural transformation in Africa.
“We have to address several key issues facing agricultural productivity,” said Otieno, who is working with David Douches, director of the MSU Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, to develop a diploid potato breeding program in Kenya. “When women are involved in leadership positions they will have access to loans and land, and thus have more power to determine their fate and drive agricultural production to greater heights. That is what I intend to do when I return to my home country.”
Otieno is one of 170 master’s and doctoral students who are currently studying in the U.S., Africa and South America as part of an international scholarship program known as BHEARD (“Bee-heard”), or the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development program. The scholars represent 11 countries (nine in Africa, two in Asia) and are currently studying at 24 U.S. universities and 10 regional institutions in Africa and South America.
BHEARD, which links scientific and higher education communities in Feed the Future countries and the United States, is supported by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by Michigan State University, in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.
“BHEARD’s approach is to test different models for capacity development,” said co-director Anne Schneller, a specialist in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics who has worked in the field of international education and international student recruitment at Michigan State University for over 25 years. “Degree training is provided in the U.S., as well as in regional or local institutions. We work in close partnership with the USAID missions, USAID in Washington and target institutions to develop an appropriate program design for each country.”
BHEARD was launched in 2012 with Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda as initial partners; Malawi, Mali and South Sudan joined in the second cohort; and Kenya, Liberia and Rwanda joined in the third cohort.
“We’re increasing the number of agricultural scientists and training them so they will return to their home countries much better prepared to strengthen universities, research institutes and government agencies,” said BHEARD co-director Frederik Derksen, who also serves as department chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition.