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Honduran students get hands-on experience at research station

News Release Distributed 07/23/14

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Testing soybean varieties or studying cotton fertility in the heat of the Louisiana summer might not appeal to some LSU students. But three visiting scholars from Honduras have been doing just that at the LSU AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria, and they say it has been the experience of a lifetime.

Elam Aleman, Mariano Sobalbarro and Cesar Escalante are students from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Honduras. Aleman and Sobalbarro are working with AgCenter soybean specialist Ronnie Levy this summer to complete their undergraduate theses. They are helping with Levy’s work on optimizing soybean yields as well as variety trials and development.

Escalante, a recent graduate of UNA who plans to attend LSU for a master’s degree in plant pathology, has been studying irrigation, fungicides, insecticides and fertility with AgCenter corn and cotton specialist Dan Fromme.

Because their university only offers a general agriculture degree, working at Dean Lee has exposed the scholars to areas of agriculture they weren’t familiar with but, in some cases, are now interested in studying in graduate school at LSU. Aleman said he would like to study soil science, and Sobalbarro is considering entomology and animal science.

Levy said the hands-on experience the scholars are getting at Dean Lee gives them a better understanding of what they read about in textbooks.

“They’re learning about everything from planting seed all the way through harvest, recording the data and relaying that information to the producers,” Levy said. “That’s important because in today’s world, a lot of students in agriculture have the basic educational knowledge, but they don’t have the practical knowledge of production.”

The scholars say they’ve also enjoyed the extension work because it gives them a chance to meet people, practice English and learn about American culture. Escalante said he now knows not only how to design and manage experiments, but also how to share the results in a way useful to farmers.

“If you give knowledge to the producers, they can put it in practice and make progress,” he said. “When I go back to my country, I will teach other people about extension. It’s one way a country can go into the future.”

Fromme said it has been a special opportunity to help Escalante develop the agricultural expertise he needs to go along with his passion to improve conditions and profitability in Honduras.

Aleman, Sobalbarro and Escalante are the first visiting scholars to study at a research station, according to Susan Karimiha, AgCenter International Programs coordinator. While their work environment is much different than LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, the scholars’ American college experience has not been completely out of the ordinary. They are staying in dorms on LSU-Alexandria’s campus and have found time for fun activities like going fishing.

International Programs plans to place more visiting scholars at research stations in the future. That is a positive step because the exchange of people and ideas is critical to research and extension, said LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson.

“The experience that visiting scholars gain by working with our specialists is invaluable,” Richardson said. “But these students also teach us a great deal. They bring a different perspective on agriculture that helps us identify issues we need to address. It’s the kind of cooperation we believe can improve agriculture and lives worldwide.”

Escalante said Americans tend to associate coffee and bananas with Honduran agriculture, but those crops are grown by large commercial producers. In reality, many people in his country are poor and farm corn and beans on a small scale. They could greatly benefit from technologies and practices used in Louisiana agriculture, he said, and the AgCenter model offers a way to take that information where it is needed.

“I think we are in a position that we can improve our country with our knowledge,” Sobalbarro said. “I hope more students from Honduras can come to LSU. When you are part of LSU and the LSU AgCenter, you can see the high level of education that this university is offering. That is important for us.”

Olivia McClure

Last Updated: 7/23/2014 10:31:49 AM

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