Program teaches students from Virginia Tech and Senegal about sustainable agriculture

“Nit, nittay garabame” is a proverb in Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal that loosely translated means, “People are medicine for people.”

That’s true of the cultural exchange between Virginia Tech and the West African nation of Senegal.

In 2014, 12 Senegalese graduate students call Virginia Tech home while 13 students from the Hokie Nation visited the country during a break through a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences-led exchange.

Since 2009, the Senegalese government has invested heavily in agricultural initiatives. The country has the potential to increase its agriculture-based income with its abundant arable land, an agriculture industry with an entrepreneurial spirit, and access to international markets through its port.

But developing countries such as Senegal also face challenges in their efforts to achieve food security from the value chain — the way food is distributed and marketed — to the way crops are grown. Climate change and erosion have degraded soil in many developing countries to the point that the land yields much less due to drought or undernourished soils that lack the appropriate moisture or climate to support crop growth.

Senegalese graduate students such as Sekouna Diatta learn to grow crops in poor soil through conservation agriculture techniques taught at Virginia Tech.

“I’ve spent several months here so far, and it’s already been very important for me professionally and as a scholar,” said Diatta, a master’s student in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences.

Students from Virginia Tech traveled to Africa for a 14-day program where they deployed a mango dehydrator and a silage compactor and demonstrated a water purifier, among other initiatives.

While students participated in service-learning projects, they also experienced cultural activities such as visiting mosques and natural habitats including a bird sanctuary.

Brent Ashley, a 2014 graduate of the dairy and animal and poultry sciences programs from Felton, Delaware, said he felt empowered by putting his academic knowledge to practical use in a multicultural environment. “Being able to take what I’ve learned over the last four years and use that knowledge to benefit others is a way to recognize that we may live in a small town in Southwestern Virginia, but we exist in a global community,” he said.

The full story can be found on Virginia Tech News.

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