Three sophomore agriculture students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff learned about Guyanese agriculture and agriculture practices in Guyana.

The students in the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences recently returned from the South American country.

Imani Coleman, an agronomy major; LaTaylor Rembert, an agriculture business major; and Laura Wright, an animal science major, were able to contribute to one of UAPB’s primary international Extension projects.

Sweet potato planting

They were directly involved in UAPB’s efforts to increase the availability of high-quality sweet potato planting materials to limited-resource farmers in Guyana through the establishment of a virus-indexing laboratory.

Prior to their arrival in Guyana, the students were briefed on the project by representatives of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute in Guyana, UAPB’s primary partner institution in the project.

Once in the country, the students learned firsthand about how UAPB is breeding sweet potato plants with better resistance to common diseases and pests. These resilient lines of sweet potatoes are currently being distributed to small-scale farmers to help expand their operations and income.

Wright said work on the project included many discussions with local farmers and agriculture experts to determine the ideal soil and weather conditions for growing sweet potatoes in Guyana. Learning about growing conditions and participating in hands-on agricultural work in the country inspired her to fulfill her dream of running her own farm someday, she said.

Inspiring students

“Participating in UAPB’s project to increase the availability of high-quality sweet potatoes in Guyana alongside Dr. James O. Garner Jr., (former dean/director of SAFHS,) was a stupendous experience,” Rembert said. “It allowed me to learn about the different types of sweet potatoes in Guyana and share information about the processes undertaken at UAPB to ensure high-quality sweet potato crops. This experience complements my education in agriculture at UAPB because not only did we focus on sweet potatoes, but also on many other aspects of the field of agriculture that could be beneficial in both the classroom and on the farm.”

The students’ agenda included site visits to various agricultural agencies in Guyana including the Ministry of Agriculture, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

“I learned a lot while visiting the agricultural agencies in Guyana,” Rembert said. “Something that was often spoken about at the various agencies was Guyana’s seawall – a long wall that was built to protect the land from erosion and flooding. They are considering many natural methods to expand the sea wall, such as planting mangroves, tropical trees native to Guyana.”

Rembert said she was able to gain professional insight and career ideas during visits to the Livestock Development Authority and Guyana Marketing Corporation. Wright said she developed a better understanding of the Guyanese agriculture economy through visits to rice, food and food packaging companies.

“Traveling to the different agricultural sites and livestock farms was an enlightening experience,” Coleman said. “I learned that different methods can be utilized to achieve a common goal. The agricultural methods used in Guyana showed me there are other ways besides the ‘American way.’ The agriculture agencies there are aware of the necessity of space to farm and are innovative as they work to ensure sustainable and prosperous farming.”

Community service

During the program, the students also spent time engaging in community service activities. During visits to the St. John Bosco Orphanage for Boys and the Hauraruni Girl’s Home, they played games and had motivational discussions with the youth residents. They also took tours of the facilities and learned about the residents’ efforts in community gardening.

“My experience volunteering with the children was absolutely amazing,” Rembert said. “The children were very well mannered and appreciative of us visiting and playing with them. I would definitely love to go back and visit both the homes.”

Over the course of her time in Guyana, Coleman said she most enjoyed getting to know the character of the Guyanese people. Though the people she met spoke of the nation’s hardships and need for some change, they never failed to mention their love for life or for their country. She also observed how the Guyanese people embrace their African roots.

“Traveling is something I feel that, as black people, we must do more frequently simply because here in America we’re a people without a definite place to trace our roots,” she said. “Of course, we trace our roots to Africa, but how many of us can say that we hail from Ethiopia, Angola or Lesotho? I don’t know anyone who can say that, and sometimes you can hear people disclaiming that African lifeline we have. That was not the case in Guyana – the Guyanese know who they are through and through. It was beautiful yet shaming to be around people who not only knew, but accepted and embraced that part of their culture.”

Coleman said the visit to Guyana made her want to know more about her family tree, as well as her ancestors’ place of origin and mother language.

“I unreservedly recommend studying abroad to other students,” Rembert said. “The experience is astonishing and eye-opening. I learned so much about agriculture, as well as the culture and people of Guyana.”

Wright said UAPB agriculture majors in particular should seriously consider enrolling in a study abroad trip to Guyana.

“Agriculture majors can benefit from seeing how agriculture functions in a middle-income country,” she said. “They will also be able to get out of their comfort zones and see the world from another perspective.”

— Will Hehemann is an Extension Specialist - Communications with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.