Ohio State faculty build capacity of researchers in Ghana through soil science workshop

rafiqWarren Dick, professor in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Rafiq Islam, research scientist and soil and bioenergy program leader at the college’s Ohio State University South Centers, traveled to Ghana from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5 to deliver an innovative workshop titled “Climate change, sustainable agriculture and soil health” at the University of Cape Coast.

The visit stemmed from their earlier participation in the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, a short-term research program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service that aims to address critical issues related to food security with a collaborating researcher from a developing or middle income country. These two Borlaug programs were managed by the Office of International Programs in Agriculture at Ohio State. While Islam advised Emmanuel Amoakwah, a research scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Soil Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana, in 2013, Dick mentored Kwame Frimpong, a senior lecturer in the Department of Soil Science and a colleague of Emmanuel’s, shortly after in 2014. Both Ghanaian researchers completed three-month research fellowships with their respective advisors in CFAES and are now back in Ghana applying the skills that they acquired and advancing novel research in the field of soil health and quality.

Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, specifically its Department of Soil Science, hosted the two-day workshop and welcomed more than 75 participants, including university faculty members, graduate students, and research scientists from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Liberia. During the workshop, several field-based measurement techniques, such as residue measurement, soil texture, diversity of soil fauna, available nitrogen and phosphorus, soil pH, and active carbon tests, were demonstrated to the participants. In addition, a ready-to-use soil quality analysis handbook was provided to each participant as a future reference, along with an economical and convenient field-based soil test kit, which participants were taught how to use in field sessions.

Dick presented on soil organic carbon and quality of science, while Islam delivered instruction on soil quality and sampling and on a systems approach to sustainable agriculture. One of the highlights of the workshop was a brainstorming session to identify priority-based research needs in Ghana to sustain agricultural production systems. According to Islam, the session prompted serious but healthy debate among participants on the appropriate research approaches needed to promote greater soil health in a region of the world that is directly experiencing the effects of climate change.

“Low soil fertility and climate change are already affecting Ghana’s dwindling natural resources and agricultural productivity,” said Frimpong said. “There’s an urgent need for a clearer understanding and implementation of soil fertility management strategies that will promote increased agricultural productivity and food security in a socially equitable and an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.”

The workshop’s appeal and the quality of the information presented was reflected by the fact that attendance and interest truly exceeded everyone’s expectations — to the point that not all of those interested could be accommodated. The modest registration fee far from dissuaded participation, but actually reassured and incentivized those searching for valuable training. Both Dick and Islam, along with Rian Lawrence, an undergraduate student in the School of Environment and Natural Resources who assisted with the development and delivery of the workshop, all deemed the workshop to be an overwhelming success.

“It was probably one of the most beneficial international programs I have been associated with,” said Dick, who has been engaged in international teaching and research, especially in Africa, for decades. “I definitely see this workshop style as a model for similar types of training activities in the future.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Borlaug Fellowship Program is administered by the Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. The Office of International Programs in Agriculture, on behalf of Ohio State, works with faculty in a cooperative effort to administer Borlaug Fellowships that are granted to Ohio State through a competitive selection process by program managers at USDA-FAS. For more information about how to become a potential faculty mentor in the Borlaug Program, please contact Beau Ingle at ingle.16@osu.edu or at 614-292-4221.

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