Virginia Tech has won funding for a program that will help redevelop agriculture in post-conflict Southern Sudan. The money will be used to set up university-level programs to train the next generation of agriculturalists in Southern Sudan.

Virginia Tech will lead the venture, working with the University of Juba, the Catholic University of Sudan, and Virginia State University. The five-year program begins in March.

Higher Education for Development made the $1.47 million award, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, to Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development.

Southern Sudan is headed toward becoming the world’s newest nation after a referendum earlier this year produced a vote to secede that passed overwhelmingly.

Because of a civil war that lasted nearly a half century, the country’s system of agricultural education was almost completely destroyed. Aid experts see the re-establishment of agriculture as a key component of the country’s development.

“In post-conflict situations, it’s especially important to include a place for the return of young men of military age. If they don’t have opportunities, they are more easily drawn into a life of crime or back to war,” says Michael Bertelsen, associate director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development and an investigator on the project.

The grant will link Virginia Tech and Virginia State faculty with faculty at the two Southern Sudan universities to create an integrated program that follows a land-grant model. Virginia Tech and its partners will

  • Create research programs on the basic food crops of Southern Sudan;
  • Examine the universities’ agriculture curricula and update it;
  • Build agricultural extension and outreach programs for technology transfer; and
  • Start graduate programs to integrate education and research.

“As Sudan emerges from its long civil war, re-establishing educational infrastructure will be critical to getting the country on a more stable footing,” says S.K. De Datta, director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development and the lead principal investigator on the program. “The land grant system of integrated education, research, and extension will be a great model for providing this foundation.”

The Virginia Tech team faces substantial challenges in Southern Sudan. Juba, the regional capital and the largest city in Southern Sudan, has few paved roads. Libraries number books in the hundreds, and those are dated.

The program resulted from an associate award to another program that the Office of International Research, Education, and Development manages: the USAID-funded Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program. After winning a highly competitive, USAID-sponsored Higher Education in Africa Initiative planning grant in July 2009, Virginia Tech and partner university agricultural experts wrote a strategic plan that outlined ways to restart agriculture in Southern Sudan and develop educational programs that will produce graduates who can provide leadership for the future development of the region.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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