Insights from industry

Redefining Global Agriculture

insights from industryDr. Jason StreubelSenior DirectorConvoy of Hope

In this interview, AZoM speaks with Dr. Jason Streubel, the senior director at the Center for Agriculture and Food Security for Convoy of Hope, about redefining global agriculture.

Could you introduce yourself and provide an overview of what it is you do and how your background in ministry led to your interest in agricultural sciences?

My name is Dr. Jason Streubel, and I began my career as a researcher at Washington State University, where I earned my Ph.D. in agriculture while working for the USDA ARS. My research has spanned many areas of modern agriculture, but much of my best-known work has focused on the relationship between soil and fertilizer.

I grew up in Washington State, and from a young age, I really fell in love with the soil. Over the years, my love for science and my faith began to intertwine. From there, I moved from a ministry background to getting a formalized degree to a Ph.D. in soil science. By feeding the soil, I hope to be able to feed the world.

LECO is partnering with the Convoy of Hope to help expand its analytical capabilities to research global agriculture best practices and extend the goals of its mission to compassionately serve people who are impoverished, hungry or hurting.

Could you explain the research that you have carried out?

On the academic side, my master’s degree was a generalized agriculture degree with a slight focus on agricultural education. We looked at rotating chickens in a confined pasture and using their manure as a way of soil reclamation.

Throughout my Ph.D., the focus was on the carbon environment and trace gas: looking at trace gas and manure analysis, examining how much N2O, methane and CO2 really comes off of manure and that application to the field.

One of my committee members, Jeff Smith, was part of the international panel on climate change. We conducted a lot of research on biochar back when carbon sequestration was only really starting to emerge.

By really looking at biochar specifically, I worked with my advisor Hal Collins, taking manure from a dairy cow and putting it through the anaerobic digestion process, which is also a green energy component. Then we took all of the leftover byproducts that had not been eaten by the microbes, filtered the rest of the grass out, made it into a pellet, and then made that into biochar and put that back into the soil and in the dairy lagoon to sequester phosphorus.

In short, we looked at the carbon component and how we could use this charcoal or biochar to sequester phosphorous, especially considering that in the dairy industry, especially in Washington state, there are extremely high phosphorus levels in the soil which can be a limiting factor for our dairies that were landlocked.

Could you tell us about Convoy of Hope and how your individual mission work fits inside of the larger Convoy mission?

There are very few places where you could go into the non-profit world as a soil scientist. When we talk about Convoy, Convoy is an international faith-based non-profit, and we really focus on disaster response and working within communities in the United States on food security and helping connect governmental agencies and the faith-based community to serve the underserved.

Internationally, we work on community development, which is primarily feeding children. We will feed approximately 500,000 children a day during the school year in over two dozen countries. We also make sure that there is a list of protocols and that we are not just giving out any food but that we are providing the right sort of food with the right calories, etc.

We also work with women’s empowerment, and that can be working with a mom who is having their first child. I worked with moms to help them create their own successful businesses. These women went from making less than $2 a day to making astronomical amounts of money because they had started their own businesses. These are women that went from prostitution to having 15 to 16 employees. We also have a sustainability plan for when we go into a community and work with its citizens, and agriculture is an important piece of that puzzle

Image credit: Shutterstock / Pavlo Baliukh

What specific approaches do you generally use or rely on in your work?

We increase agricultural infrastructure, provide education and help with production and diversification.

At Convoy, we help design and architect large-term agriculture programs from the pilot stage up to completion, and we have multiple agricultural officers across the country. We have an agricultural specialist at our headquarters who is coaching and working with our agricultural officers to create an extension network that allows us to take the science to the people so that they can become sustainable.

When you go into the communities you work with, what are some of the key things you need to address?

One of the most important things we do when we go into those communities and set up shop is hire locals to carry out the work, making sure to use their invaluable local expertise. They know all the different terrain, they know the seed, they know the varieties, they know the soil type, and they know the pests that are coming in.

From our side, from the Center for Agriculture and Food Security, we get to be the experts on the fundamental science to be able to deliver expertise on integrated pest management, carbon, fertility and production, processing, and fertilization. We can give the general sciences and then build those resources to help the agricultural officers determine their specialties in the areas they’re in.

Can you tell us a little about the center you are developing - The Center for Agricultural and Food Security?

One of the things that we have noticed is that there is a desperate need to be able to demonstrate and resource local farmers and the emerging farmer in the emerging market at that third to eighth-grade level.

The center is really helping us to be able to create resources for our global network as well as the global network of other partners that we work with, with appropriate technology to be able to test out products before farmers who are on the subsistence level.

We can demonstrate it, we can show it in the field, we can show it in a lab, and we can create video resources for them written so that they can see it, touch it, and feel it without having to take the front side risk.

At present, the center has a three to four-year plan for the development program, but we will have about 25,000 square feet under greenhouses to mimic climates around the world so that we can learn how to control our conditions for growth and integrated pest management.

We will have agricultural mechanics building an open classroom so that we can demonstrate and teach appropriate technology, as well as a small lab so that we can carry out analyses with the help of LECO’s expertise and instrumentation.

Do you have a specific example of Convoy’s success through its agricultural program?

Two examples always come to mind when thinking about Convoy’s success, and this success can be seen in both our diversity and methodology. We have a list of countries that we know have certain needs and that we know we want to work with. Our disaster response affords us the opportunity to go into a community at its worst and to be able to help them recover and rebuild.

For example, we went into Nepal after the Nepali earthquake. We worked with a community that had been really left out from all the other NGOs because they were simply too far away from Katmandu. Still, our disaster response team was able to go in and help them on the disaster side of things. While we were out there helping, we also noticed that within the school system, their children were suffering from malnutrition, even though they had been growing domesticated rice and corn for generations.

With our expertise, we were able to go offer demonstrations, start feeding in the school, and start educating on health and nutrition to a point where now, the community of Khumjung is not a budget item within our international program. They have increased their gross domestic product to the point where they do not need our help anymore.

We introduced crop diversity, high tunnels, tomato production, coffee, and tea. They introduced dairy goats, and they introduced better genetic lines of goat meat.

The other recent example involves one of our communities in Burkina; we were able to, because of our agricultural expertise, increase their maize production significantly. For this last part of the school season, they were able to feed the school with corn provided by their local farmers. Even though we had a drop in the supply chain, the farmers in the area had increased their production enough that they were able to help feed those kids. To me, that is really what it is all about.

Image credits: Shutterstock / Bits And Splits

LECO has donated carbon-nitrogen determination equipment to help support research and efforts into Convoy missions. How will you be making use of this equipment, and how will it help advance future ways of thinking?

I am a scientist, and so I want to push the envelope. I want to learn about compost ratios, the protein and moisture content of food products, new methods for fertilization, and how to increase soil organic carbon. I also want to know if there is any technology out there that can help us to increase soil health. To do those things and to do those things well requires really good analysis and precise instrumentation.

If we do not have access to good analysis, then we cannot give our farmers the best answers possible. When we look at carbon and nitrogen and protein and moisture, we want to be able to test things. By acquiring good data here at the Center for Ag and experimenting and pushing the envelope on some application pieces, we can help feed families around the world, starting with good instrumentation.

What area of research is Convoy currently focusing on? Is there something in particular that you see in the future that can move the needle per se as far as practical application in the field?

Although everyone seems to be focusing on carbon, there is great potential for new and innovative exploration in other areas. As a result of our global connections and what we are doing on that scale, I think we can offer something extremely novel to the scientific community. We can make a lot of progress on protein.

The possibilities are endless when you have really good instrumentation like those provided by LECO. Now that we have the instrumentation, we can start to experiment, bringing the appropriate technology into communities that need it.

Could you expand upon the plan to use students and your role as a professor in this collaboration?

At Convoy, we teach. I have partnerships with Missouri State, Washington State, and Evangel University. As part of this collaboration, we will install the equipment at Evangel, at our science lab, where Sigma Zeta students, who are part of the Science Honor Society, are conducting undergrad research. We are then able to introduce them to cutting-edge analytical equipment, which can open their eyes to what is truly possible, helping prepare them for the workforce.

Working with the students means that we can mentor them. The students will also be an active part of our current research into carbon and proteins.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by LECO Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit LECO Corporation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

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