UA Hosts Borlaug Fellows from Tunisia and Morocco

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Four scientists from Tunisia and Morocco recently completed a month-long training program in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellows. As a result, two new memoranda of agreement are now in review by officials in their home countries: between the UA and Tunisia's National Institute of Field Crops and National Institute of Agronomy; and between the UA and Morocco's National Institute of Agronomic Research.   

Both memoranda foster continued collaborative research in water-related issues in semi-arid climates in North Africa and the United States. The Borlaug Fellows spent approximately three months in this unique multi-institution fellowship program, working with faculty at South Dakota State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before returning to North Africa in December.  SDSU, UA, and UIUC are all member institutions of the International Arid Lands Consortium, an organization which promotes collaborative research and practical application of new knowledge that promotes peace through the development of sustainable agricultural and natural resources practices. 

The Borlaug Fellowship program is operated by the USDA and aims to help developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing scientific training and collaborative research opportunities to visiting researchers, policymakers, and university faculty.  Borlaug Fellows are given an opportunity to work with U.S. researchers for 6-12 weeks with access to fully-equipped labs and libraries as well as experience in the field.

"Hosting the Fellows was a great pleasure," said Barbara Hutchinson, training coordinator at the UA. "They all enthusiastically participated in both the program's intellectual and cultural activities and their interest in taking advantage of every learning opportunity was truly outstanding.  Everyone involved in working with the Fellows benefited from a lively exchange of ideas and discussion of common concerns.  We are excited the Borlaug Fellows program provides the opportunity to build a long-term professional relationship with our colleagues in Tunisia and Morocco."

While at UA, the Borlaug Fellows worked under the guidance of a team of mentors: Donald Slack and Muluneh Yitayew from Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and Kamel Didan from Electrical and Computer Engineering.  Fellows were introduced to innovative research methods, new technology and advances that could be implemented to address water challenges in their own countries.  Faculty mentors will provide additional training by visiting the Fellows in Tunisia and Morocco during 2011. Comments from participants:

Anis Bousselmi, Tunisia

"I work in the National Institute of Field Crops in Tunisia," said Anis Bousselmi, an engineer. "Among our priority programs is the establishment of a warning system for cereal irrigation."  During his program at UA, Bousselmi learned how to download data using satellite processing software.  He was particularly interested in exploring the use of AZSCHED, a water balance irrigation scheduling program that incorporates predictions for future weather conditions using a statistically based calculation.  Decision tools allow engineers to improve the efficiency of crop irrigation, remarks Bousselmi," and therefore to develop for soil and climatic condition in Tunisia."

Fouad Elame, Morocco

The central focus of Elame's research at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Morocco is to integrate water management and optimize the allocation of this resource in the Souss-Massa river basin, an area severely exposed to the impacts of climate change.  "In addition to the recurring droughts that Morocco experienced during the last two decades," said Elame, groundwater resources also face "an unceasingly increasing demand, in particular under the effect of demographic pressure and economic development." A field tour to the Yuma Agricultural Center provided Elame the opportunity to investigate such efficiencies as furrow irrigation and fertilization/irrigation combinations that minimize nitrate leaching.  Elame also enjoyed the opportunity to visit with technicians at area greenhouses that utilize drip irrigation.  Greenhouses are a vital component of the agricultural industry in Morocco.

Thouraya Mellah, Tunisia

As a teacher and researcher at La Manouba University in Tunisia, Thouraya Mellah said she benefited from the program by studying water policy and the practical method of water allocation in Arizona.  In addition to working with her mentors, Mellah met with experts across the state, including Sharon Megdal, director of the UA Water Resources Research Center, and representatives of the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District.  "I think that this training is an opportunity to create a new relationship between researchers in Tunisia and the UofA," Mellah said.  "It may be an occasion to develop together a new knowledge and also to try to benefit on the experience of each one in water management."

Issam Nouiri, Tunisia

Nouiri, an assistant professor for the Graduate School of Agriculture of Kef in Tunisia, teaches hydraulics and engineering.  At CALS, he worked with his team of mentors to explore the uses of GIS and remote sensing in more efficiently quantifying water demand and water/pollution balances that impact the production of cereal grains in Tunisia.  Nouiri is eager to put this intensive training on remote sensing to work at home in Tunisia.  "In my opinion, a training workshop on a pilot study area will be fundamental to improve our skills and to convince other partners and the administration to support this approach in many applications for crop production."

The Borlaug Fellowship Program was established in 2004 to honor Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for the development of high-yield, disease-resistant varieties of wheat that reversed severe food shortages in India, Pakistan, and Mexico in the 1960s.  Since its inception in 2004, more than 500 young professionals from 64 countries have taken part in the Borlaug Fellowship Program.  Training venues include U.S. universities, federal research facilities, and non-profit institutions. Applications are encouraged from residents of developing countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.  In October, the Borlaug Fellows meet as a group at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.

--By Barbara Hutchinson and Bethany Rutledge