World Food Prize: Grad students look forward to expanding knowledge at symposium

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This year, two graduate students from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Ilse Huerta Arredondo and Celize Christy, will represent the University at World Food Prize events in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct.18-20. 

Christy is a second-year master's degree student in international agriculture and development (INTAD) and rural sociology and holds undergraduate degrees in animal science and global resource systems from Iowa State University. Her research focuses on local traditional knowledge related to the management of poultry diseases in Rwanda.

Christy’s thesis work examines the traditional methods, many of which are plant or herb-based, that rural farmers utilize for maintaining poultry health. She hopes to determine why some farmers use certain local methods and not others, how knowledge of methods is shared, and where farmers obtain information about managing the health of their chickens.

Over the summer, Christy received academic support and funding from the INTAD dual-title program to conduct research in Rwanda. She lived and worked in the Musanze District in the northern region of the country for almost three months, which allowed her to gain more experience and exposure to the rural livelihoods she is working to improve.

In Rwanda, Christy collaborated with a local feed mill to recruit participants for her study. This collaboration gave Christy an in-country support network that allowed her to live in the local community, hire a translator to assist her in communication, and provided the flexibility to move through the field safely and comfortably to conduct her research. She completed 30 in-depth interviews or observations with veterinarians, rural poultry farmers and agricultural tech support stores.

“Through the academic support of my advisers and graduate program, I was able to develop and create a unique thesis project that allowed me to look at prior technical knowledge of animal science through a sociological lens,” she said.

Huerta is a second-year doctoral student in agricultural and extension education and international agriculture and development. She received a bachelor of science degree in agronomy from the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and a master's from Penn State in plant pathology. Huerta’s research interests are agricultural awareness through non-formal education to promote supportive agricultural policy-making, especially in Mexico.

Huerta’s dissertation work will explore the relationship between Penn State Extension and Hispanic farmers in Pennsylvania. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, Pennsylvania has more than 600 Hispanic farmers. A pilot survey conducted by Huerta and one of her colleagues, Melanie Miller-Foster, assistant professor of international agriculture, Office of International Programs, revealed that Hispanic workers in Pennsylvania have little knowledge about the land-grant system, but extension trainings are valued. Huerta will continue to conduct surveys, interviews and a case-study evaluation to gain insight into the opportunities and challenges of extension programming for Hispanic farmers in Pennsylvania.

The World Food Prize is the foremost international honor recognizing — without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs — the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. The conference is made up of more than 1,000 participants from 65 countries, which include international leaders, farmers, agribusiness executives, non-governmental organizations and development experts to address the most critical issues facing global food security.

Jose Huerta, Jr.

Ilse Huerta has a personal connection to the Borlaug Dialogue. One of Dr. Borlaug’s research stations was located on Huerta’s great-grandfather farm and her grandfather, Jose Huerta, Jr., managed the farm at the time of the research.

Image: Ilse Huerta Arredondo

The Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, one of the events included in the World Food Prize, addresses issues related to global food security and nutrition.

Huerta has a personal connection to the Borlaug Dialogue. The event is named after Norman Borlaug, a plant pathologist whose research and extension work saved millions of lives. One of Borlaug’s research stations was located on Huerta’s great-grandfather's farm, Granja Guadalupe, in central Mexico. Huerta’s grandfather, Jose Huerta Jr., managed the farm at the time of the research and remained friends with Borlaug until the doctor’s passing.

“This history makes me very proud," said Huerta. "My grandfather was the first person I told that I’d be attending the Borlaug Dialogue this year.”

Student representatives for the World Food Prize were selected by representatives from the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, which also provided funding for their travel to the events.

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Last Updated October 23, 2017