Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

ACES’ graduate grantees making international impacts towards food security and environmental protection

Published February 2, 2016

Through the ACES International Graduate Grants program, coordinated by the Office of International Programs, ACES graduate student recipients have made significant contributions towards addressing such global challenges as food security and environmental protection.

Improving crop productivity in Nepal and India

Alex Park, pictured above with local farmers and villagers, is partnering with The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center's Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) to study how different technologies affect measures of productivity for the rural poor in Bihar and New Delhi, India.

“I chose wheat as a focus crop because of its considerable scope for improvement in productivity under unfavorable environments that are characterized by environmental stresses,” said Park.

Specifically, Park is investigating three key agronomic improvements, which are promoted by CSISA and have improved yields: early sowing of wheat, zero-tillage, and propagation of advanced wheat genotypes.

“I was able to meet with service providers and over 100 local farmers who are implementing these changes. This experience contextualized the large datasets I am analyzing. With the information I gathered, I can translate what may have become a more academic question into one that can actually make a difference in a farmer’s production, and thus hopefully improve his or her livelihood. This experience has also facilitated the implementation of an experimental design for next year’s wheat crop to determine how different technologies interact across different environments in India and Nepal,” said Park.

Park's work will help identify which technologies pair best with particular environments, thereby improving food security in new locations.

Also funded under the United States Agency for International Development's Borlaug Fellowship, Park is advised by Dr. Adam Davis in the Department of Crop Sciences.

Addressing malnutrition in India

Shashank Gaur is working with the Mansinhbhai Institute of Dairy and Food Technology (MIDFT) and Dudhsagar Dairy (DSD) to develop a functional lipid-based nutrient supplement (LNS) to alleviate chronic malnutrition, parasitic infections, and gut inflammation among at risk populations in India.

“LNS are compact foods designed with India’s staple ingredients that contain the right balance of nutrients such as fat, carbohydrate, proteins, vitamins, and minerals with added functional ingredients to provide additional benefits for malnourished Indian children,” Gaur explained.

The goal is to develop a product that is accepted among Indian consumers. Then, improve its impact with the addition of functional ingredients.

“Testing showed that our product is either more or equally acceptable to other commercial supplementary products available in India and the United States. The survey participants said the taste of the product closely resembled that of sweets and candies generally consumed in India. The success of the product was covered by local press. At present, the product is pipelined for production and distribution among rural communities by our Indian partners,” Gaur said.

Gaur, a PhD student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, is advised by Dr. Juan Andrade.

Gaur also received funds were from MIDFT.

Reducing postharvest losses

As previously reported here, Marin Skidmore and Hemant Pullabhotla traveled to Bihar, India twice during 2015 to gather information on postharvest losses through a farm household survey. Their research aims to reduce postharvest losses and increase farmers’ returns in this region, where most farmers live in extreme poverty.

Skidmore, a MS student, and Pullabhotla, a PhD student, are both working under the supervision of Dr. Kathy Baylis in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

Identifying conservation priorities for migratory birds

Antonio Celis Murillo used the funds to conduct a survey of migratory birds at Isla Contoy National Park in the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and in the Guanacahabibes Peninsula in southwestern Cuba.

Murillo, who worked in collaboration with researchers from the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment; the Cuban Center for Research and Environmental Services ECOVIDA; University of Illinois; and Eastern Illinois University, said, “This study was the first intensive survey conducted on migrating birds in Cuba and the first coordinated survey of migratory birds in the Caribbean region after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, I assisted in a training workshop organized by my Cuban colleagues to train 27 Cuban students and researchers on how to operate mist nets and process birds to collect data on age, sex, body condition, and size.”

The team captured, marked, and released more than 4,000 birds in Cuba and Mexico to quantify spatial and temporal patterns in bird species composition, abundance, age ratios, and physical condition. The results of this study will provide essential knowledge and pilot data for designing future research projects aimed at expanding their understanding of birds’ ecological requirements during migration through the Caribbean.

Widespread decline of songbirds has stirred concern among biologists because these species perform critical ecosystem services such as insect control and assist in the reproduction and distribution of fruit-bearing plants.

Murillo is a PhD student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences advised by Dr. Michael Ward.

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The international graduate grant program is made possible through generous donations from Bill and Mary Lee Dimond and the Arlys Conrad Endowment Fund.

Click here for a full list of previous graduate grant awardees.