10 May 2010

USAIN 2010 - The opening sessions

May 10th was the official opening of the USAIN 2010 Conference “Agriculture Without Borders” at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Co-chair Marianne Stowell Bracke welcomed the 115 participants and introduced Dr. Dale Whittaker, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University who set the stage for the first day events.

Dr. Whittaker noted we are living in a time of particular challenges characterized by an explosion of data and resource constraints, yet a hunger for the knowledge that will mitigate the many serious problems we face. He spoke of a sense of urgency in renewing academic commitment to preparing students to live in this complex environment and to build stronger partnerships between researchers, teachers, and information specialists to transform
information to knowledge.

Dr. Whittaker particularly noted the importance of teaching critical thinking skills to foster the ability to explain issues, identify context, seek credible evidence, identify hypotheses, and understand the implications of those consequences.

Follow-on presentations spoke to urgent worldwide issues of food security and climate change, and to the critical role information sharing and access play on that stage.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Kevin McNamara who provided a detailed description of the work Purdue and its many partners have undertaken in Afghanistan since 2005 as part of the re-development program. The Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance (A4) initiative has rebuilt infrastructure at Kabul University (KU) as well as other outlying colleges.

It focuses on strengthening faculty effectiveness in classroom and curriculum, and providing students with applied educational opportunities such as field experiences and lab experiences. He noted there is still little access to information and few working computers outside the Main Library at KU and that they are in the process of training technicians to fill this gap.

Negotiating Local Change in Globalized Agriculture was the theme of a session with three speakers. Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, University of Richmond, spoke on the impact of animal diseases in Southern Africa on the global food system and the different ways that Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa are addressing these issues, including extensive fencing systems. She suggested a need to contextualize global agriculture, recognize that disease control affects people inequitably, and understand the relevance of history and culture to globalized agriculture.

Dr. Corinne Valdivia, University of Missouri, described a climate change and agriculture initiative in the Andes that is looking at the adaptive capacity of rural communities to changes in climate variability and increasing food vulnerability. She noted the importance of incorporating local knowledge and community groups in the development of strategies and in building advocacy coalitions to address uncertainties.

Wrapping up the session, Dr. Keith Moore, Virginia Tech University, reflected on how social and technical knowledge networks operate and stated the need to link local and global context and to involve all stakeholders in information sharing and decision-making on a continuing basis if major issues of the day are to be successfully accomplished.

Story by Barbara Hutchinson

More on the 2010 USAIN Congress

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