Three officials from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) recently visited La Molina National Agrarian University in Peru to strengthen the academic bonds between the two universities through the National Program of Scholarships and Education Loans (PRONABEC), an international scholarship program offered by the Peruvian government designed to increase the number of higher degree holders in the country.
The contingent included CANR Dean Mark Rieger, Eric Wommack, deputy dean and associate dean for research and graduate education and professor of environmental microbiology, and Debbie Delaney, assistant professor of entomology.
Rieger explained that the PRONABEC program is designed for eligible participants who want to earn master’s or doctoral degrees. Those who meet the requirements are able to study in America and return to Peru when they have completed their degree program so that they can contribute to the Peruvian economy.
“Peru wants to train people but they want them to come back and contribute,” Rieger said. “It’s very generous, with a stipend, tuition, air fare, book allowance, even an allowance for an English language training program if you need it. UD signed an agreement with the Peruvian government to reduce tuition by 50 percent for all students that qualify in the PRONABEC program and our college decided to participate.”
While at La Molina, the three spoke to around 80 students and faculty members.
With Peru being one of the most bio and agriculturally diverse areas in the world –mountains, deserts and rain forests afford the ability to grow a number of different plants and support a wide range of wildlife – Rieger said the partnership with Peru, and specifically La Molina University, which is the main agricultural university in that nation, was a natural fit for CANR.
In addition to the agriculture and biodiversity benefits, Rieger also said the economy is booming and downtown Lima, near where La Molina University is located, is expanding greatly, with exports of high quality agricultural products like coffee, quinoa and avocados projected to double by 2020.
“The interesting thing about Peru is that the coast is a desert and it’s very much like a California climate, which is unusual because the entire country lies in the tropics. You would expect sort of a jungle but because of the Andes you have the rain shadow and it’s bone dry with only a couple of inches of rain a year. So you have what amounts to a strip of central California on the coast where they can grow grapes, avocados, citrus – they can grow just about anything there with the irrigation,” said Rieger.
In the mountains of Peru, Rieger said that growers are able to grow potatoes, tomatoes and a lot of crops that were domesticated by the Incas, as well as coffee.
“Then, 60 percent of the country is the Amazon rainforest,” he said. “So you have cacao and banana and oil palm and all kinds of different biodiversity going on there, let alone the ecotourism and the wildlife itself that connects to our college.”
Government, grower interaction
In addition to talking with the faculty and students, Delaney also met with Peruvian government officials to talk about honeybees and pollination, specifically pest management, and to give her opinion on pollinators for growing greenhouse peppers that could be exported to the United States.
Those meetings were also attended by beekeepers from different parts of Peru, such as the Amazon and the Andes.
“A lot of people came to express their needs but also to hear what was going on in the U.S. They’re somewhat isolated in Peru, just that giant desert to the north and the Andes to the east, and so they are trying to ramp up production and they’re looking to other places that already have high production for certain crops for advice,” said Delaney.
Delaney said that Peru is in a unique spot because the country is filled with high-end food items that could potentially have strong markets.
“They’re interested in cataloging their diversity and understanding pollination issues in some of their larger crops, and also pest management. Those are probably the three biggest things that they’re interested in pursuing collaboratively via students coming here, students going there – it’s really getting people on the ground to do the work,” said Delaney.
One of the best parts of the trip for Delaney was seeing the beekeeping in the country courtesy of the Confederation of Peruvian Beekeepers.
“I visited all sorts of different beekeepers, mostly in the desert region, got maybe two hours from the Andes, but I saw a lot of different beekeeping operations,” said Delaney, who said that because they are in the desert with a very limited rainfall, honey is a high-end commodity.
“A jar of honey is very valuable and it’s different honey. It’s more medicinal when you taste it and it’s more medicinal in terms of how they market their products. It was really interesting to work with the beekeepers there. They were a really nice group and it was interesting to see the bees working in this really dry environment,” said Delaney.
Rieger said that in addition to having faculty and students from La Molina come to UD to get their graduate degrees, he is hoping that the connections they made with faculty members at the institution, as well as the scholarship program, will lead to future partnerships between the two universities.
“La Molina would be a great location to place one of our students because the university is in the coastal desert but they have farms in the highlands and in the Amazon. If a student went there, they’d actually be able to study agriculture in a Mediterranean coastal desert climate, in an Andean mountain climate and in a rainforest climate,” said Rieger.
“It would be a great place for our students to go and spend a summer and be able to see the whole diversity of agriculture that can occur when you have that kind of topographic and ecosystem diversity. And even our wildlife students or our natural resource and water resource students, anybody from our college could benefit from it.”
Article by Adam Thomas
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