Ozzie Abaye has spent years assessing crops that could diversify the Senegalese diet. The efforts led to an idea that would combine all the things she cared most about in life — agronomy, food security, children, and empowering women.

After significant research, the mung bean was chosen for its rich nutritional value and ability to grow in the Senegalese climate.

With each visit to the African country, Abaye’s research expanded.

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Abaye, the Thomas B. Hutcheson Jr. Memorial Professorship in Agronomy in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has had her work expand to include Lydia Fitzgerald, the Virginia Tech/Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Partnership soil health and integrated conservation agronomist, who traveled to Senegal to assist local producers with soil health, her area of specialty.

“When I found out that I was selected for this opportunity, I immediately started working with Dr. Abaye and we came up with a program that was focused on soil health,” said Fitzgerald, whose position is housed in both the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and Virginia NRCS. “My work here in Virginia is focused on soil health outreach and education. I took those same workshops, principles, and programs and used them to help lead workshops with the Senegalese farmers. Focusing on soil health helps them increase production of mung beans. If they have healthier soils, they can produce more mung beans and more crops in general.”

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The purpose of the project is simple: to support outreach efforts in Senegal to increase production and knowledge of the current system of producing mung beans across the region with the goal to help improve nutrition the country's children and people.

Aside from expanding Abaye’s longstanding work in the country, Fitzgerald’s role in Senegal builds on her work in Virginia with Virginia NRCS, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Fitzgerald’s role allowed her to bring these partners together and provide soil health outreach and education. That recently involved working with the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to host a series of dig and demo trainings across the commonwealth that enabled Extension agents and our other technical staff to sharpen their skills related to communicating and demonstrating soil health principles to their clients and producers. The same model was applied and expanded for the outreach and educational work in Senegal.

“We have to be mindful of the fact that the producers in Senegal already have a very full plate and sometimes what we view as empowering them can adding more to their plate,” Fitzgerald said. “It inspired me to think about ways that we can empower the producers, but also work to help alleviate some of the burdens they face along the way. This same concept directly applies to my work with farmers back in Virginia.”

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