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Feed the Future
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Technology and farming always have mixed well in the United States, but in many other countries, particularly in the underdeveloped world, it’s a different story. Why does it matter, and what can be done about it? Richard Miles interviews Gbola Adesogan, Director of the Livestock Systems Innovation Lab at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). 

 

TRANSCRIPT:

 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We’ll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we’ll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Technology and farming always has mixed well in the United States, but in many other countries, particularly in the underdeveloped world, it’s a different story. Why does it matter and what can be done about it? I’m your host, Richard Miles, and today on radio Cade, I’m pleased to welcome Gbola Adesogan, a professor at the University of Florida and director of the livestock systems innovation lab at the university’s Institute of food and agricultural sciences, otherwise known as IFAS. Welcome to Radio Cade, Gbola.

Gbola Adesogan:

Thank you.

Richard Miles:

So, Gbola, you develop technologies that improve livestock production in eight African and Asian countries, and this is paid for in part by the U.S. government. So I think the first thing we need to explain to our listeners is why is a university in North central Florida working on improving agricultural technologies in African nation ?

Gbola Adesogan:

Okay, thank you for that question. And thank you for this opportunity. I think we’re all aware about a growing global population, the problems of poverty and hunger, and in many countries, what many of us may not be aware of is the problem of hidden hunger, which is when people lack certain nutrients in their diets that prevent them from reaching their potential. And this malnutrition deficiency or stunting is something which is prevalent in many developing countries. And we have come to realize the research has shown that a deficiency of these certain key nutrients causes lifelong problems. It’s Tom’s physical development, as well as cognitive development. So children are less able to do well in school. Their test scores are much lower. Their IQs are much lower and more susceptible to diseases and so on. And we have come to realize that the nutrients which are missing in the diets of those children, which caused this problem are present in livestock products. And we have a longstanding department of animal sciences and a community at UF, a community of researchers who have experience in developing technologies that can help to prevent this problem, improve livestock production, improve the supply of these missing nutrients in the diet. So we, as a team of , uh , several faculty across different units at the University of Florida, most of us from IFAS, collectively submitted a proposal to manage this livestock systems innovation lab, which has at its core, a vision to sustainably intensify livestock production, so that we can improve the nutrition, the health, the incomes, and the livelihoods of the poor in these eight countries.

Richard Miles:

If we could define livestock, is it just large animals are talking about or does go all the way down to say chickens?

Gbola Adesogan:

Yes, it does include small animals. So chickens, pigs, sheep, and goats, and cattle, and even Buffalo in Nepali in one of our countries.

Richard Miles:

So if I understand the concept, as you explain it Gbola, but it’s not necessarily that people are not getting enough calories and they’re literally starving, they may be getting enough calories, but they’re not getting enough nutrients. And that’s because they’re only eating presumably one thing, one crop, and they’re getting no protein. Do I have that right?

Gbola Adesogan:

Yes, you do. It’s that in most rural areas in the countries where we work and in many developing countries, the diets of the poor and the vulnerable are usually starch base . So it could be yams or potatoes or pasta or rice. And they may have some vegetables with that, but they lack the main nutrients that are needed for preventing this cognitive problem that occurs as a result of stunting. And those would be things like zinc, vitamin B12, which is only present in animal products, iron IOD, a vitamin a on a number of others. And what is advantage yours from a livestock product standpoint is that they contain those nutrients. And in many cases, the livestock products are the only readily bioavailable sources of those nutrients. So something like B12, you can only get from animal sources, iron, you can get from spinach and other plant sources, but it’s not as bioavailable. And so for the small brains of infants, you need an dense and readily bioavailable source of these nutrients.

Richard Miles:

Let’s talk a little bit about the broader concept of food security, which is something I think most people in United States or developed countries don’t really understand that because it’s rare, except in hurricane comes through that you can’t go to the store at any time of the day and basically get the food that you need or want for a reasonable price. But in other countries, that’s not the case at all. As you’ve illustrated, you simply can’t get certain types of food, but if over time, certain parts of the population cannot get over the long period, these type of nutrients, what happens to the stability of society or even the government. Can you explore that concept of food security a little bit?

Gbola Adesogan:

Yeah. So if we, first of all, look at food security is broader there’s provision of food to address hunger. And then there’s hidden hunger as well. And the lack of the nutrients, this taunting itself not only affects the cognitive development of children and their physical development so that they never achieved their high potential. And these are things that are very difficult to reverse. In fact, someone said , says condemns children to a lifetime of underperformance and underachievement. In many of these countries, a child who does not perform well in school has a far lower chance of holding down or even getting a good job. And so their ability to care for the community is reduced substantially. And these are extended family systems where there’s a lot of dependency on an individual. So the negative effects spiral beyond the individual, into the community. Now with hunger itself, when communities lack the essential nutrients or lack access to food that can cause really, really terrible problems in some of the areas of the world, some of the terrorism problems , some of the migration problems that are occurring are relation to food access and food affordability, and people are migrating sometimes simply because they want to be able to provide for their family.

Richard Miles:

So really this is a very insidious problem in that in the one instance, if there’s literally no food at all, then people may riot or move. But in what you’re talking about with the hidden hunger problem, it can be such that the real effects for the real dangers appear actually later as a cohort, age cohort goes up. And as you said, they’ve been stunted because they didn’t have, for instance, B12 and their entire lives, they’re not going to be as productive as they could have been.

Gbola Adesogan:

That’s correct studies that I’ve shown that IQ’s intelligence quotient of children who are stunted is far less, sometimes five points, less, much higher than that. And then there’s a study that was done by World Bank Researchers that showed that if the workforce of a nation is made up of people who are stunted in childhood, the economic productivity of that nation is going to be reduced by 7% on average. But for African and Asian countries, the average value is 10% for certain African countries. The value is as high as 16%. So this is not just an individual problem or a societal problem is a national problem. And these are countries where poverty is very high and there’s a great need for economic development to provide jobs and so on and so forth. So that’s stunting has ripple effects that just go on and on and on .

Richard Miles:

But one of the reasons that the United States government is interested in this type of developing partnerships is that it seems like as a country, there are cultural system becomes more sophisticated, not coincidentally. They tend to start buying more agricultural products or technologies from the United States for a country that is getting new systems in place. What sort of trade or economic relationships do they develop with say suppliers in the United States? What sort of products are they now starting to import from the U.S. that they weren’t importing before?

Gbola Adesogan:

So there are several benefits that are accrued to the U.S. from these partnerships. And examples are sometimes some of our projects involve trying to tackle diseases like in Uganda and Kenya, we’re working on PPR or Pesta Patura now, which is a viral disease of sheep and goats that started from ivory coast and spread throughout Africa. A lot of the middle East, that nation, thankfully, it’s not here yet. And so we’re testing a Thermo stable vaccine for containing the disease. So that whole disease prevention aspect is something that our lab is working on as well as several other labs. Now, to answer your specific question, the soybean association of the U.S. has partnered with the soybean innovation lab for instance, and they are helping with supplying soybean to countries where soybean is needed. There are companies in the U S that are also developing new varieties of fodder or forages for animal feed that are drought tolerant, that the grain can be used for human food consumption. And then the straw can be used for animal consumption. And in certain cases, the whole plant can be fed to animals. So there are companies that are also involved at many of the big companies, big ad companies. We have how foundations that are also involved in these countries. The U.S. Sorghum Association has worked with the sorghum and millet innovation lab to help improve the capacity, to provide improved varieties in different countries across the world as well.

Richard Miles:

So you’ve mentioned several times these innovation labs and indeed you’re the director of the livestock systems innovation lab. What do you think are some of the more interesting and successful projects that these innovation labs have done in these countries? If you could give us a few examples of what ideas did they come up that materially or dramatically improved the system in the country, in which they’re working,

Gbola Adesogan:

I’ll give some examples of some of our work. Then I’ll talk about maybe a couple of other labs. And we in the livestock lab are funded by both USCID and the Gates foundation, but feed the future is a much broader initiative. It’s an across government initiative that was started in 2009 during the Obama administration and enacted into law with strong bipartisan support. And it’s been reauthorized twice since then, last time being last year with very strong bipartisan support as well. And these labs try and address issues of poverty and hunger in the developing world. And they use agricultural led economic growth as one of the methods of alleviating the problems in this country. And also trying to enhance the resilience of the individuals. Now, some specific technologies that have been developed that we have developed , i’ll give maybe two or three examples. One of them was a smartphone app for formulating balanced rations or livestock for cows and Buffalo in Nepal. So this app allows us to match the nutrient needs of cattle with what the diet is supplying . So we are able to determine how much corn, how much soybean, how much vitamins and so on to mix into a ration for a cow. And that avoids a lot of wastage. And it means that meeting the nutrient needs of the cow and 94% of those who tried this in Nepal, saw that the milk production from their cows was improved. Another example from Nepal, we tried some technologies for reducing mastitis. Mastitis is when the utter of the cow gets inflamed. So bacteria get into the teat canal and release a toxin, and that can reduce milk production severely, and it can also pose a food safety hazard. It makes the milk less suitable for processing and so on. And so we deployed some technologies which are commonly used here in the U.S. in Nepal. And we reduce mastitis in Buffalo from 78 to 18%. So the prevalence was very drastically reduced. And one of our partners Heifer International is now scaling that to thousands of farmers in Nepal. Other labs have also developed several innovations. In fact, I think there are about 900 technologies that have been developed by these Feed the Future innovation labs. And another example that has been successful is developmental a moisture testing device, which is very useful. And this was done by the post-harvest innovation lab in partnership with some colleagues in garner and a young man named Ceci , Mr. Ceci in Ghana, he won to one of the MIT on the 35 innovator awards last year. And he got that award because of his work with this lab. And this moisture meter is very, very useful for determining how much moisture is in green samples. And if we store greens with too much moisture, then they become moldy and they can produce the toxin, which is carcinogenic. So these technologies can have really beneficial effects in many parts of the world. Mr. Ceci has now established a company, and he’s now selling some of these moisture meters. And he got that knowledge through his interaction with the post-harvest innovation lab at Kansas State University.

Richard Miles:

That’s amazing the success rates that you were citing and the adoption rates, this technology is really pretty spectacular. How is it that these innovation labs are so successful in getting the farmers in these countries to adopt the new technology? Because I think there’s this preconception or stereotypes , certainly United States say, well, all the tech savvy people are the ones who work in the high tech firms and the people who are still in the agricultural sector or more traditional, but in this case, and certainly I know in the United States, farmers are actually the ones who are very early adopters of new technologies because they see these results in your experience, working in the countries, you’ve worked in, how exactly do you connect with the farmers on the ground and say, here’s a new process, whether it’s a smartphone app or another thing you really should use it is the reaction skeptical is enthusiastic? What do they say?

Gbola Adesogan:

So in the developing world, you have the same type of range of perceptions about new technology. As we have here, you have the early adopters, you have those who are very slow to take on anything new, but I think it’s a question of looking at the whole process of behavior change as something to be approached strategically and carefully. And I would also say that it’s not something that we’ve nailed down within the livestock innovation lab. We continue to work on this, but understanding the context is very important. Understanding the social cultural context in many of these countries, women play a very vital role in livestock within agricultural practice and production and involving the women is often critical to the success of technologies. Understanding the context is very important on working alongside the farmers, understanding their needs, first of all, and then try to figure out what matters to them. So I’ll give one more example. One of my colleagues here at UF, Sarah McCune, led one of our 45 projects in Burkina Faso in West Africa in the area they raise poultry, but egg consumption is very low, particularly among children. So what she was trying to do was to increase egg consumption by children and she used education. So she had a control group of villages, where there was no intervention. She had another group where there was training on the importance of eggs in the diet, the nutritional benefits of consuming eggs. And then there was also a training on raising poultry properly. So that was the educational intervention, but the full intervention was that educational intervention plus gifting of chickens to the families. Now, what was unique was that she not only gifted chickens, but she elicited the help of village elders and ask the village elders to talk to the parents and get them to commit, to feeding one egg a day to a child. And that was successful. So at the end of the 10 month study, what we found is those children on the control group was still eating no eggs. Those in the education group, the partial intervention, they were now eating two eggs a week. Those in the full intervention were eating six eggs a week, a tremendous breakthrough, and this made the national news in Burkina Faso. And what was very striking was that the children in the control group got more malnourished. Monitoring scores, including on the weight and wasting worsened and wasting is associated with childhood mortality. But in the full intervention group, those calls were decreased. And people who visited the children in the different villages said, you could tell immediately where you go to a full intervention village because the children were more active and playful and it looked bright and so on and so forth. And that was just from giving them an egg a day.

Richard Miles:

So for a researcher, this is like a dream come true, get all the results you want from your various control group and full on intervention and so on. Well , let’s talk a little bit about you now. Uh , personally, you have somewhat of an advantage, as you’d said, understanding the cultural context cause you yourself are from Nigeria. And so you obviously have a strong personal connection to your work, particularly in that region. So, I understand your father was a chemistry teacher. Your mother was a nursing instructor, tell us a little bit, and our listeners, what your childhood was like and what led you ultimately to animal science.

Gbola Adesogan:

So I had somewhat of a privileged upbringing because my parents were both educators in Nigeria. And so I had a great childhood. It was probably quite similar to a middle class childhood here in the U.S, But this specific influences that led me to animal science is kind of interesting. My best friend in elementary school was from Germany. His dad was a visiting professor from Germany who came to spend some time in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan where my dad worked. And because this young person Mark was my best friend, we hung out a lot together. And every now and again, his dad would take us to the farm, to the animal science farm. And we would see the animals and look at what he was doing and so on and so forth. And I think that with maybe an innate love for animals is what drove me to the animal science career. And in 2013, when I learned about stunting and I learned about the fact that animal products contain the nutrients that are lacking in fact was a specific presentation. I listened to one in which someone presented some information from a research project published in American journal where feeding just a little bit of meat to children in Kenya, increased their test scores, average over five school semesters and all school subjects improve their test scores by 45% that got my attention, just the thought that improving the diet or these children could improve their lives and therefore improve society, improve the country as a whole. That is a very strong motivating factor for me, as well as my faith. I’m a Christian. And so this all really dovetails with the teachings of Jesus.

Richard Miles:

That’s fascinating Gbola. What is next for you? And do you have research projects, new ones that you intend to embark on, or have you thought about other areas in what you’d like to do in terms of an intervention what’s next for you?

Gbola Adesogan:

So we’re now in the fifth year of a five year project from USCID. The Gates project goes on for another two years after this. So we’re now working with USCID on our next tension and early indications are that we will be able to get one. So we are gearing up for the next five years. We’re thinking about how can we continue to do innovative work, develop new technologies? How can we make sure we have even greater impacts? So yesterday for instance, we had a discussion with some of the folks at USCID about engaging the private sector strategies for even more effective engagement of the private sector, because we don’t want to just do research. That shows something is beneficial, but the true test of the success of our work is to what extent is it adopted? And to what extent does it have long lasting and sustainable impacts? So that’s something we’re gearing up on with strategizing on. We have a lot of faculty across UF who work with us and they are really the secret of our success. And we’ve had discussions on this already this year and we continue to do so.

Richard Miles:

Well. I have to admit to a little bit of envy because I spent most of my career in foreign affairs. Some of it doing development work and some of the countries I was in. And I got to tell you, a lot of people put a lot of effort into designing certain programs of democracy, building and education, and rarely if ever do they get the results that you’re talking about working in solving the problems of hidden hunger and so on and really profound. It’s hard to see how these won’t help these countries longterm, because if what you’re describing is successful. And as you said, it’s sustainable over the longterm , talking about a benefit and a gain for really everyone. It’s not just that kid who got the B12 and they needed, it’s the entire society that benefits from more productive individual and stable society and so on. So I really commend you on your work. Look forward to having you back on the show at some point to give us an update on what’s going on and wish you all the best.

Gbola Adesogan:

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Richard Miles:

I am Richard Miles .

Outro:

Radio Cade is produced by the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida. Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie Thom coordinates inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood Soundstage and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak. The Radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy Collins and features violinist, Jacob Lawson.

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