Building an international community: Ag program reaches across the globe to foster new wave of collaboration

Years ago, the influence of UC Davis' agricultural resources was felt all over the globe.

In the 1960s, university professors helped set up schools of veterinary medicine in Chile. Chilean students came to UC Davis to do graduate work and returned to lead their universities' studies.

UC Davis researchers also had close ties with major agricultural projects in India and China.

And 20 years ago in Egypt, UC Davis professors worked with the Egyptian government to improve the production of a variety of crops in that country.

Much of the foundation funding for these projects - and UC Davis' participation - withered in the 1980s, but lately there has been resurgence of international collaborative projects, with UC Davis laying the groundwork.

That's important with the globally oriented agricultural economy of the 21st century, said Patrick Brown, director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' International Programs Office.

The three-year-old office - which Brown recently took over full time - is helping to oversee new cooperative relationships to introduce UC Davis students, staff and faculty members to global methods of agriculture, and to acquaint the world with UC Davis' agricultural expertise.

"My particular goal is educational," said Brown, who is also a pomology professor on campus. "Our students need to be exposed to international educational opportunities, either by going abroad or having international visitors."

There soon will be plenty of opportunities for students to get both types of experiences.

Brown visited Australia last week to set up one of the newest ventures of the international office, an agriculturally focused study-abroad program at the University of Adelaide. Brown is a graduate of the university.

Earlier this month, he learned that that UC Davis has again been selected as a host agricultural university for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program.

UC Davis last participated in the fellowship - a Fulbright program for working professionals - in 1995. The university's fellows have included Dinka Debela, a senior expert in the Egytian Ministry of Agriculture.

Another offering the International Programs Office hopes to soon add to its global list is a summer field study program in Panama. There, students from UC Davis and other campuses will study the interplay between tropical ecology and sustainable agriculture. When they return to their universities they'll use their field knowledge to develop an honors thesis or presentation.

The project will give students a better understanding of how the economic, agricultural and environmental policies of different nations affect one another, said assistant pomology professor Dan Potter. The developing country of Panama presents an especially interesting case as it faces a possible loss of biodiversity through loss of its rain forests, he said.

Potter is applying for a Higher Education Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the field program, which is being co-sponsored by Panama's City of Knowledge, a national academic and research center; and Cornell, Iowa State and Texas A&M universities. Potter will learn by the summer whether UC Davis has received the grant.

Foreign students at Davis are also benefiting from the programs of the international office, said Gaston Prieto, a master's candidate in animal science. The Argentina native hopes that his international training will land him a good job once he returns to his country. After arriving at UC Davis, Prieto initially enrolled in a graduate agricultural certificate program, administered by the office. It cost about three times less than a master's degree.

"I didn't have a scholarship at the time," he said. "The cost was very important to me."

Groups of foreign academics and farmers may also study the university's research and field sites though the long-standing International Agriculture Visitors program, now part of Brown's office. The program brought three visitors from China's Zhejiang University to the campus mid-March. They met with Minghua Zhang, an adjunct professor, and her researchers who are studying the crop water quality in Chinese rivers.

"We will hopefully learn some new ways to study this," said Qiu Jizhen, a professor at Zhejiang's international college.

Jizhen also signed a research agreement with UC Davis. That should allow Zhejang to receive government funding for joint agricultural projects it undertakes with the university.

UC Davis' increased focus on promoting cooperative research led to the signing of 21 research agreements in 2000, Brown said. In previous years, the university typically agreed to one new research collaboration a year.

The opportunity for international research is particularly important at an institution like UC Davis, Brown said.

Unlike some universities, UC Davis doesn't often graduate students interested in managing farms, he said. Rather, typical graduates from agricultural programs pursue careers in commodity trade or marketing where having foreign contacts is a distinct advantage.

"These linkages last for a long time," Brown said. "And they are very valuable."

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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