By Caitlin Powers
Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication faculty assisted South Sudan with training military on growing food. Part of a State Department project with the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, assistant professor Robert Strong, Ph.D., and Continuing education assistant professor Kirk Edney, Ph.D., traveled to Juba, South Sudan November 14 to 26.
“The military has created an agricultural battalion but they do not know how to raise food because they have been in a civil war for decades,” Strong said.
In the agricultural battalion, soldiers and officers are learning how to grow food. After the completion of the program they will be sent somewhere around the country to manage a farm for the army and serve as an extension officer to the surrounding community.
“They will be responsible for training and teaching other farmers of that region in the country how to grow food,” Strong said.
Tents served as classrooms for Strong and Edney as they taught the group about soil testing to improve the production of the many crops including corn, cow peas, peppers, squash, herbs and okra. Edney taught how to take the soil test one day and Strong taught how to examine the results another day.
“It is something we all take for granted but they had no idea how to do something like that,” Strong said. “Think about riding a bike, the very first time, where you have nothing to relate that to because you have never done it before. It is the same way with them.”
Most of the group Strong and Edney taught were illiterate which became and added challenge in teaching the information but was easily overcome.
“They are very intelligent and they are hungry,” Strong said. “When I say hungry I don’t mean more food, I mean for information.”
While in Juba, Strong and Edney conducted needs assessments to understand what information the group needed and in what format they need it in. Strong said one of the dominant things they need information on was identifying insects and disease that hinder the production of crops.
“I have never worked with a group of people that are so ravenous for information,” Strong said. “So that is a huge part of it.”
Now back home, Strong and Edney are working on developing curricula based on the needs assessments. Strong said he is putting together a simple visual fact sheet on disease in watermelon, better known as “Jew Mallow” in South Sudan, and is also doing another on tractor safety. They will send these materials to them via email concluding phase one of the plan Strong said.
“We hope to go back in the spring and evaluate the use of those materials, how well they have done and what else they may need after that,” Strong said.
The impact of Strong’s and Edney’s travel is wider than just the tent classrooms in South Sudan it is in the classrooms here in College Station as well.
“Next fall, Dr. Edney and I can use the information, situation, photos and videos [from the tip] in our courses to help students really understand the big picture outside of College Station,” Strong said.
“It gives us a broader scope of the global issues going on in post-conflict areas around the world and a broader scope to develop what we are doing here in the department.”