Before Bernard Darfour came to Iowa State University (ISU) for his PhD in Industrial and Agricultural Technology, he was working toward a Master’s degree in Radiation Processing at the University of Ghana and researching gamma rays. Gamma rays are produced by the most energy-intensive phenomena in our universe like supernova explosions and black holes. Gamma rays are also found on Earth as part of nuclear explosions, radioactive decay and lightening. Bernard was harnessing the gamma ray to see ‘how it would enhance post-harvest storage, and the characteristics of the gamma-processed cowpea’. After completing his Master’s degree, Bernard took a job at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission in the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute, where he worked as a research scientist for almost five years before coming to ISU.
At ISU, Bernard is working with Dr. Kurt Rosentrater to design a simple device that can be used by smallholder farmers in Ghana to improve food storage. Moving from gamma rays, which can only be safely used in a state-of-the-art laboratory, to a simple storage device for farmers will be a considerable research shift for Bernard. But he wants his ‘research to improve food security in Ghana’ and for him, ‘when farmers are able to safely store their produce and have food for the whole year, food security will be improved.’
Bernard began his research at ISU in the summer of 2015 and is still deciding which crops he will focus on for his final thesis research. Corn is a logical choice because it ‘is the largest grown cereal in Ghana,’ but sorghum and amaranth are also important potential crops for home consumption and food security.
After a harvest, farmers in Ghana often ‘try to sell the produce as quickly as possible’ because they lack proper drying and storage facilities. When farmers lack flexibility in selling, their produce ‘comes at a cheaper price’ and they are less able to make a profit. Bernard and Dr. Rosentrater believe that one key component to food security in Ghana is improving food storage.
When Bernard first arrived in Iowa, he was a little worried. ‘I was surprised when I came to Ames because you don’t see people. I came in the summer so all the students were gone.’ To fight the summer boredom, Bernard took several trips to Des Moines with Global Programs staff to visit the Art Center, Iowa State Fair and the Iowa State Capitol building. He attended the 2015 World Food Prize ceremonies and the Iowa Hunger Summit Project held in Des Moines as well. He also met extensively with Dr. Rosentrater who was always willing to talk and advise him. ‘If I have a question I just email him, and then I go in. Very easy.’
Since classes have started, Bernard has been busy trying to squeeze 48 credits into four semesters. One aspect that has stood out to him in these classes is the importance of seed conditioning or seed cleaning. ‘In the US… most broken seeds, infested seeds, foreign particles or plants parts are removed from the seed lot. But in Ghana, the broken seeds, foreign materials, and infected seeds are mostly not removed and can act as sources of inoculum for deterioration.’ Including compromised seeds in storage will result in the faster deterioration of the seeds, ‘but we don’t consider that aspect of it, we just package everything and push it onto the market.’
Bernard’s work is part of USAID’s Feed the Future Ghana Agriculture Technology Transfer Project (2013-2018), which seeks ‘to increase the availability and use of agricultural technologies to maximize and sustain productivity in Northern Ghana’ with the International Fertilizer Development Center as the lead implementing partner.
Bernard will return to Ghana this summer to do some preliminary studies and to choose the field sites for his thesis research. He plans to spend two years at ISU focusing on laboratory research and classwork, and then two years in Ghana focusing on the field aspects of his work. Bernard is hopeful that at the end of those four years, he will have a simple device that will help to improve food storage and increase food security in Ghana.
Story and photos courtesy of Catherine DeLong
The Feed the Future Agriculture Technology Transfer Project is one of the many assistance programs supported by the American people through the United States Agency for International Development. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the United States Government