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Texas A&M students step out into the wider world, visit CIMMYT

During 19-29 June 2007, eight students from the Faculty of the Soil and Crop Science Department, Texas A&M University toured CIMMYT-El Batán and talked with center staff as part of an introductory trip to learn about international agricultural research. Accompanied by Ronald Cantrell, former Director of the CIMMYT Maize Program and Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Steve Hague, Texas A&M Professor in Cotton Breeding, the students are expected among other things to develop an understanding of the challenges and opportunities in underdeveloped agriculture systems. Their program included visits to the facilities of Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research (INIFAP) and of Pioneer-Hibred in Mexico, as well as interacting with subsistence farmers in Tlaxcala State.

The trip came about when Cantrell was invited to give a seminar for Soil and Crop Science Department graduate students. “Participants expressed interest in study abroad,” Cantrell says, “and this coincided with a grant from Dr. Norman Borlaug for this purpose. They decided to use the grant to visit an international center, and asked me to coordinate it. Students applied for this ‘scholarship,’ and these are the ones chosen.” The group includes students from the undergraduate through PhD levels, and crop breeders, agronomists, and molecular biologists.

Dhananjay Mani, arrived at the University a year and a half ago from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, India, and is studying for an MSc in plant breeding. He likes the emphasis on breeding at Texas A&M and the opportunity for contact with the University’s Distinguished Professor, Norman Borlaug. “Regarding CIMMYT, I observe one thing,” he says. “Everyone here is talking and thinking about the whole world, not just local issues, and especially people who really need agriculture.”

Jennifer Winn, an MSc student from Denton, Texas, USA, became interested in crop breeding after reading an autobiographical account of a medical missionary in Africa who was treating the major diseases that affect the poor. “He’d give his patients medicine, then hear a couple of days later that they died from malnutrition,” she says. “The book makes the point that malnutrition is the main cause of death in the developing world, and this emphasizes the importance of agriculture and agricultural research.” She has been impressed with the level of organization she observes in CIMMYT: “Programs are collaborating on a wide range of work—biofortification at the molecular level, then there’s Ken Sayre’s work at the field level. You cover every aspect of the plant!”