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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In peace and "when the bullets are flying," professor lends a hand to Africa

When Richard Pratt accepted the 2005 African Crop Science Society Award last December in Uganda, he didn't just see it as a personal honor. He knew the award also was a testament to the ties between Ohio State and Africa’s agricultural science community.
Pratt has been a professor of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State’s Agricultural Research and Development Center for almost 20 years. An expert on corn breeding, he brings Ugandan graduate students to his Wooster lab to help him develop tools to fight diseases that devastate the crop, known in Africa as maize.
Ohio State faculty members have been working with academic institutions in Uganda and Nigeria since the mid-1960s, giving the university a solid research presence in Africa, including study abroad programs like Pratt's.
“In Uganda, we’ve been developing these relationships both in times of peace and when the bullets were flying,” Pratt says. “OSU has shown a sustained commitment; we are not just a fair-weather friend.”
“The idea here is building up the capabilities of African universities, lifting the quality of their research, and addressing real-life problems.”
His work has paid off: Ohio State-trained African scientists now hold leadership positions in both government and academic research institutions--and they continue to remember their alma mater.
"Unless science is taken into the field and makes an impact in the livelihood of subsistence farmers," says Pratt, "there isn’t much contribution."

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