History of IPIA and International Activities

Almost from the time of its establishment, Purdue's College of Agriculture displayed a global vision and an eagerness to engage with partners beyond America's borders. According to College historian Allan Goecker, Purdue's School of Agriculture had already engaged in international activities prior to the turn of the 20th century. Early issues of The Purdue Agriculturist, which was published from 1906-1969, contain numerous references to international activities led by faculty members, students, and alumni. As an early example, College archives document Prof. A. T. Wiancko's three-month study tour in 1910 during which he visited agricultural experiment stations in Denmark, England, Germany, Holland and Sweden to gain information and ideas that would be of practical use to Indiana farmers. An openness to learn from others, share knowledge with others, and respond to changing social conditions has been a cornerstone of Purdue's mission as a Land-grant university. Further evidence of the important role of international agriculture in Purdue's history is that the University's first honorary degree was awarded from the School of Agriculture in 1921 to Silverio Apostal, who at the time served as Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the Philippines.

purdue_agriculturalist A. T. Wiancko

Key to the further development of a strong foundation in international work were the efforts and leadership of Lowell S. Hardin (former Professor of Agricultural Economics), who joined the College in 1943. In 1965, following 22 years on the faculty, Lowell accepted an assignment as Senior Agricultural Officer in the International Division of the Ford Foundation . From there, he worked with those who created the concept of International Agricultural Research and Development and helped shape the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to govern and sustain those efforts. During the ensuing decades, Lowell was one of the architects that created and nurtured many of the CG centers and was one of the early visionaries who promoted the cause of organized agricultural sciences to address the concerns of hunger and poverty. Along the way, he provided strong mentorship for many at Purdue. This created a climate and environment that allowed international work to flourish in the College in the ensuing decades. In 2019, IPIA established a College-wide faculty award for excellence in international activities in Prof. Hardin's honor.

Building on this early foundation, the first concerted steps toward making international agriculture a focused mission area in the College came in the 1950s. Brazil proved to be the catalyst. In 1951, Purdue staff began working with the Federal Universities of Brazil, including Viçosa, Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, and the Dairy Technology School at Juiz de Fora. This was a full decade before the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) would be established by President John F. Kennedy.  The primary aim of our efforts was to initiate institution building within the agricultural departments of these young Brazilian universities.

By the early 1960s, international activities in the College had expanded considerably, and it became clear that administrative oversight was needed. In response, the office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA) was established in 1965 by IPIA's first director and Associate Dean for International Programs, D. Woods Thomas. For the first few decades of IPIA's existence, it was the only unit on the Purdue campus with an explicit mandate to pursue international engagement. In the 1970s, all of Purdue's nascent study abroad programs were managed out of IPIA because it was the only "international" office on campus.  IPIA thus served as a model that was later used to set up the university-wide International Programs office in the early 1990s (of which Woods Thomas was the first Dean) as well as the office of Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships.

IPIA's initial mandate was to better coordinate the expanding and deepening relationship between Purdue's College of Agriculture and the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) in the State of Minas Gerais in central Brazil. Purdue's work in Brazil helped foster the establishment of Embrapa (Empressa Brazileira de Pesquiza Agropecuaria, i.e. the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), on April 26, 1973. In the 1950s and 1960s, numerous members of Purdue's faculty stayed in Brazil for several years to strengthen the program at Viçosa. Those that went include Ellsworth Christmas (former Professor of Agronomy), Jules Janick (Professor of Horticulture), Doug Knudson (Professor of Forestry), and Dean Thomas himself.  At the close of the program, UFV had been transformed from a rural vocational school to one of the finest universities in South America. Purdue's early work at Viçosa was documented in detail by Purdue alumna Adriela Fernández in her 1991 Ph.D. dissertation. Over time, Purdue's efforts came to be widely regarded as a premier example of U.S. foreign aid focused on agricultural development. Unfortunately, as the 1970s unfolded, U.S. government support for institution building began to wane.  Despite a decrease in available funding, however, Dean Thomas continued to promote projects between Purdue and Viçosa. These resulted in numerous exchanges by students, professors, and researchers. To this day, IPIA maintains strong relationships with Viçosa and other Brazilian institutions, promoting student and faculty exchange and collaboration.


The 1970s were also an important period for other work in the College that would have widespread global impact. In the early 1970s, Phil Nelson (Professor Emeritus of Food Science) traveled to India as part of a National Academy of Sciences team sent to study the problem of food spoilage. This led to his investigations into methods to preserve food, including heat sterilization and aseptic storage. Prof. Nelson's innovations greatly enhanced the effectiveness of preserving fresh foods,  especially in developing countries. Global recognition of this work earned him the 2007 World Food Prize. His would be the first of three of these so-called "Nobel Prizes for Agriculture" to be awarded to Purdue faculty or alumni.

Under the leadership of Wilford (Bill) Morris (former Professor of Agricultural Economics), the West Africa Project was funded by USAID in the 1970s to conduct sorghum and millet research in Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Mali, Niger and Senegal. Eighteen returning Peace Corps volunteers who had worked in those countries were admitted for graduate studies were stationed in those countries. Long-time staff member Katy Ibrahim played a key role in this project and many others in subsequent decades.

In 1979, T. Kelley White served briefly as Interim Director of IPIA while Woods Thomas was on sabbatical in Washington, DC working with USAID. During this period the College further expanded its international efforts with the International Sorghum and Millet (INTSORMIL) Project which was managed by the University of Nebraska. INTSORMIL was one of the early USAID Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). It began with the goal of developing technologies that would assist with growing human capacity and strengthening national research institutions in East Africa.  The Horn of Africa sub-project, led by Gebisa Ejeta (Distinguished Professor of Agronomy), focused on crop improvement in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda, and was a primary initiative of INTSORMIL. Other sub-projects were carried out in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, India, Mali, Mexico, Mozambique, Niger, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The main accomplishments of INTSORMIL, which ended in 2010, included a comprehensive survey of drought tolerant technologies, the development of improved hybrids of sorghum and millet with higher drought tolerance and grain quality for Ethiopia and Kenya, the distribution of Striga-resistant sorghum in Ethiopia and Tanzania, the creation of a regional database for sorghum, and the completion of a comprehensive survey of Striga management plans in the region. Among the truly significant achievements of INTSORMIL was the release of a Striga-resistant sorghum variety adapted for production in East Africa. This life-saving innovation to combat the naturally-occurring parasitic plant resulted from work done by Gebisa and would ultimately lead to his being awarded the 2009 World Food Prize, Purdue's second. In addition to the INTSORMIL CRSP, Purdue researchers contributed to a number of other CRSPs during this period including the Aquaculture CRSP, the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) CRSP, the Peanut CRSP, the Soils CRSP, the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (SANREM) CRSP, and the AMA BASIS CRSP. The CRSPs were the predecessors to today's USAID Feed the Future Innovation Labs, and focused on three areas: (i) building human and institutional capacity in partner universities (both in host countries and in the United States); (ii) leading research efforts to contribute to development in host countries; and (iii) strengthening scientific knowledge. The CRSPs were an important model for internationalization of the research dimension of the Land-grant mission and Purdue played a central role in their creation and evolution. 

The 1980s saw the return to campus of Lowell Hardin, in 1982, following his retirement from the Ford Foundation. Lowell served for the next 25 years as Assistant Director of IPIA, providing service in the areas of teaching, advising, and mentoring. It was during this time that the young Nigerian Akinwumi Adesina came to Purdue for graduate studies. "Akin" would go on to serve as the Nigerian Agriculture Minister from 2010-2015 and, subsequently, as President of the African Development Bank. In 2015, Purdue recognized Adesina with an honorary doctorate and in 2017 he became Purdue's third World Food Prize winner. Adesina earned both his Master's (1985) and Ph.D. (1988) degrees in the Department of Agricultural Economics.

The 1990s began a tumultuous time in Eastern and Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Shortly thereafter, David J. Sammons (Professor Emeritus of Agronomy at the University of Florida) stepped into the Director and Associate Dean role, serving from 1993 to 2006. During his tenure, Dean Sammons served on the Boards of all of the CRSPs at various points and was instrumental in enhancing Purdue's reputation as a CRSP leader.  Within IPIA, an important initiative during those years was an effort to develop a global perspective within the Extension dimension of the Land Grant mission. As part of that effort, the College established a permanent position that remains jointly-supported by IPIA and the Office of Extension. This individual works with county Extension educators presenting workshops and seminars on how a global dimension might fit with county activities and priorities. This novel effort attracted widespread attention nationally and was discussed with Extension leadership in other parts of the United States as a model for globalizing Extension within the principal domestic mission of the program. It also widened the global perspective of the Land Grant mission beyond the standard efforts in teaching and research. Building on this initiative, in the 1990s, IPIA administered a Farmer-to-Farmer program in the former Soviet Republics that resulted in 36 Indiana agriculturists travelling to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Tajikistan to provide technical training to farmers. In Poland, Purdue worked with the Agricultural Universities of Krakow, Poznan, and Warsaw to develop programs that they could offer to their students, create exchanges between Purdue and Polish students, and form methods of agricultural extension. Institution strengthening also occurred at several agricultural universities in Lithuania on a smaller scale than in Poland. This also was a period of rapid growth in undergraduate study abroad in the College of Agriculture, with key involvement by Mike Stitsworth and Linda Vallade.


The College of Agriculture Study Abroad Program began in 1993 with a program in Ukraine. Grants from USIA and USDA initially funded exchanges, not only with Ukraine but also with Hungary, followed by Russia. USDA also funded an early exchange program with Japan.  This helped establish the culture of study abroad within the College and these initial programs were quickly followed with programs in France, Ireland and Sweden. In Honduras, Robert (Bob) O'Neil (former Professor of Entomology) began to lay a foundation for the College of Agriculture's relationship with Zamorano University, the Pan-American School of Agriculture. With the support of USDA, Prof. O'Neil organized a group from the College of Agriculture to work with Peace Corps volunteers at Zamorano, and subsequently organized a visit, which was led by then Dean of the College of Agriculture, Vic Lechtenberg (Special Assistant to the President at Purdue), and included -- among others -- Suzanne Nielsen (Professor of Food Science).  At that time, Zamorano was seeking to add a Food Science/Technology major as an option for students, and sent a group of Zamorano administrators to the Food Science Department at Purdue.  In 1997, Suzanne hosted Gladys Flores, a Zamorano faculty member, who was developing Food Analysis and Food Chemistry courses for their Food Science curriculum.  Then, in 1999, Suzanne and Gladys started a program in which a small group of Zamorano Food Science seniors came to complete internships in Suzanne’s research laboratory.  During the period of 1999-2006, seven Food Science interns came from Zamorano, and all returned to Purdue to complete graduate degrees.  Seeing the quality of the Zamorano students as interns and graduate students, Suzanne as Head of Food Science launched a program to bring more Zamorano interns as prospective graduate students.  During the period of 2007-2013, Purdue’s Food Science Department provided partial support yearly for five Zamorano students to complete a semester-long internship in the laboratories of junior faculty members.  Brian Farkas (former Professor of Food Science) took over as Department Head in 2013 and continued to support the program.  Building on this strong foundation, Robert (Bob) Nielsen (Professor of Agronomy) championed an initiative to bring Zamorano interns to other departments in the College.  Starting in 2018, gift funds allowed the College to expand the Zamorano internship program beyond Food Science. 

The 1990s was also a period in which IPIA for the first time began to initiate programs in China. Prof. John Tse (former Professor and founder of Purdue's Krannert School of Management), provided a gift that allowed Purdue to establish study abroad opportunities in China and greatly expand its presence there. During the 1994-95 academic year, Purdue faculty conducted research in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Slovenia as part of an IPIA-led project focused on addressing the problem of corn rootworm, an insect pest that devastated corn crops across the U.S. and Europe. This project was jointly funded by FAO, the Maize Institute of Yugoslavia, the Cereal Institute of Plant Protection of Austria and the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection organization (Paris). Researchers involved in this work included Richard C. Edwards (Professor Emeritus of Entomology), Harry Gibson (former Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering), Richard Grant (Professor of Agronomy), John Graveel (Professor Emeritus of Agronomy), Mario Morales (former Professor of Horticulture), L. D. Norton (formerly of the National Soil Erosion Laboratory), Jeff Volenec (Professor of Agronomy), and Herbert Ohm (Distinguished Professor of Agronomy).

Between 2002 and 2008, the West Africa Bean/Cowpea CRSP began in Senegal and Burkina Faso in partnership with the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) and the Network for the Genetic Improvement of Cowpea for Africa (NGICA). Larry Murdock (Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Entomology) was the lead investigator on this project, which also involved his then-student, Barry Pittendrigh (Professor of Entomology). The goal of the project was to improve the molecular genetic make-up of cowpea to increase output for growers and to develop a management plan to express Bt, an insecticide gene, in cowpeas to combat the problem of Maruca vitrata, the cowpea pod borer. During the last two years of Dean Sammons's tenure (2004-2006), he was on leave from Purdue working on university relations as a senior advisor in the Office of Agriculture at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). During this period, James "Jess" Lowenberg-DeBoer(Elizabeth Creak Chair of Agri-Tech Economics at Harper Adams University) served as interim Director and, following Dean Sammons' resignation to move to the University of Florida in July 2006, was formally appointed Associate Dean and IPIA Director, serving in that role from 2006 to 2015.

During Dean Lowenberg-DeBoer's tenure, Purdue embarked on an ambitious program to strengthen higher education in war-torn Afghanistan. This work centered on Kabul University and the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture beginning in 2006, and continued for more than a decade under the leadership of Kevin McNamara (Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics). IPIA administered the program that provided support in the form of training of mid-level and junior faculty and providing computers and textbooks.  Kevin, who had previously worked in Afghanistan with the Peace Corps between 1972 and 1974, developed the program after attending the reopening of Kabul University following the fall of the Taliban in 2002. Faculty exchanges began in 2006 with 17 mid-career faculty members from universities in Afghanistan coming to Purdue to work on development of their courses and curriculum. The same year Purdue also began working with Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) to expand the capacity of their program of safety certifications for exporting agricultural products.  This project continued until 2014. In 2008, a parallel program brought 13 junior level faculty members from universities throughout Afghanistan to Purdue for graduate training. In 2012, Purdue joined a consortium of universities with the aim of growing the capacity of MAIL's extension program to improve service delivery to rural Afghans. This program would continue into 2017, and from 2013 to 2018 the College partnered with Herat University to strengthen its agricultural research and extension programs. The last of the Afghan projects, introducing agribusiness and food technology curriculum into Afghan universities, concluded in 2019.


As early as the 1980s, Larry Murdock (Distinguished Professor of Entomology) was working on ways to combat pests affecting cowpeas during storage. This early research was supported by USAID and, working with partners at Institute of Agricultural Research for Development , Cameroon (IRAD), World VisionCatholic Relief Services and Save the Children, initially focused on farmers in Cameroon. This was the origin of PICS, an acronym now recognized by more than five million farmers in more than 50,000 villages and 25+ countries around the world. PICS initially stood for Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage, but over time came to represent the more general concept of Improved Crop Storage. In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began to support this work. Key to the success of PICS was the involvement of Dieudonné Baributsa (Associate Professor of Entomology) and Laurie Kitch (a former Ph.D. student of Murdock's). PICS1 focused on cowpea storage in West and Central Africa, and PICS2 was initiated in 2011 for research into the usefulness of the technology with other crops (maize, sorghum, wheat, rice, etc.). A third grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched PICS3 in 2014 with the goal of commercializing the technology in Sub-Saharan Africa. All three PICS projects were managed by IPIA and resulted in the establishment of a private company PICS Global, Inc. to expand the project into Asian markets.

Building on the success of the PICS project, in 2014 Purdue received a grant from USAID to host the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling (FPIL). This project initially focused on post-harvest loss reduction and value-added processing, mainly in Kenya and Senegal. In 2019, USAID extended support of the project to 2022. Managed by IPIA, this project has involved more than a dozen College of Agriculture faculty members, among them the current Director Jacob Ricker-Gilbert (Professor of Agricultural Economics), Bruce Hamaker (Distinguished Professor of Food Science), Suzanne Nielsen (Professor of Food Science) and Charles Woloshuk (Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology).

Following Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer's departure as IPIA Director in 2015, K. G. "Ragu" Raghothama (Professor of Horticulture) served as Interim Director for much of the period between 2015 and 2019, except for a brief period in 2017-18 when Indrajeet Chaubey (former Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering) served as Associate Dean and Director. During this period, a series of high-level meetings and exchanges established the basis for a collaboration between Purdue and the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín (UNSA) in Arequipa, Peru.  In March of 2018, the Arequipa Nexus Institute for Food, Water, Energy, and the Environment was officially launched. This portfolio of research projects, technical workshops, and programs for visiting scholars has engaged nearly 100 UNSA and Purdue faculty and staff, including many in the College of Agriculture.

L-R: Brian Farkas (former Department Head for Food Science, Purdue University), Bonnie Glick (former Deputy Administrator, USAID), Haley Oliver (Director, Food Safety Innovation Lab Professor of Food Science, Purdue University), Martin Wiedmann (Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety, Cornell University), Robert Bertram (Chief Scientist, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID), Kelley Cormier (Food Safety Chief in the Center for Nutrition, USAID).


In 2019, Gerald "Jerry" Shively (Professor of Agricultural Economics) was appointed the College's sixth Associate Dean for International Programs. In early 2019, Purdue led a series of high-profile events related to scaling up agricultural innovations that built upon a major conference that was held at Purdue in the fall of 2018. These events included a launch of the Scale Up Sourcebook at the National Press Club (in Washington, DC in early 2019) and a Policy Forum on Scaling at the African Green Revolution Forum (in Accra, Ghana in the fall of 2019). In 2019, College researchers also received a number of grants to sustain international activities into a new decade. In addition to an extension of the FPIL, these included a four-year grant from the USAID Mission in Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) to support capacity building for research on nutrition, and a five-year grant from USAID to manage the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety (FSIL). This innovation lab is directed by Haley Oliver (Associate Professor of Food Science) and focuses on activities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal.

Response to the Covid-19 global pandemic in 2020 required flexibility and innovation, with many formerly in-person activities moving to virtual and remote methods of engagement. By far, the most significant of these has been the IPIA-led Global Agriculture Innovation Forum, a year-long series of virtual events that is supported by USDA-FAS.