Past Faculty and Staff Spotlights
Bill Field, Professor of ABE, gets farmers back to work worldwide.
To Bill Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, a man who suffers a head injury falling from a grain bin in Indiana is no different than a woman who loses a foot to snakebite near Bangkok. “They have the same mechanical needs,” he explains — “how to get to where they need to be and do the things they’ve always done.”
Field directs the national
AgrAbility Project, a USDA-NIFA-sponsored program that helps farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities meet those needs. His work focuses on three main areas: the health and well-being of farm families; enhancing emergency response in rural communities; and helping farmers rehabilitate after they’ve experienced a disability. The last priority taps Field’s ongoing research on assistive technology in agricultural workplaces.
Through its Purdue-based staff and website offering tools and resources, the program has global reach. In 2019 AgrAbility’s website averaged 10,000 unique visitors a day who downloaded more than 880,000 pages during the year. Eighty hours of online instruction helps farmers and the rehabilitation professionals serving them to adapt to a wide variety of disabling conditions, from amputations and arthritis to cerebral palsy. A translator was recently added to increase the site’s global usefulness.
“The concept is to provide technical assistance through existing Extension networks,” Field says. “We receive inquiries daily from all over the world related to enhancing the performance of agricultural workers with disabilities.” In 2019, the office fielded calls and messages from 118 countries.
“As members of a global agricultural community, we share many things,” says Gerald Shively, director of International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue. “Among them, unfortunately, are physical disabilities and the obstacles that prevent individuals from leading full and productive lives. Bill’s efforts to address and overcome these challenges through AgrAbility leverages not just technology but also a deep concern for the well-being of farmers, farm families, and farming communities everywhere.
“IPIA’s mission is to leverage knowledge, resources, and people achieve positive global impacts. Bill’s work is a shining example of how Purdue Agriculture is working to fulfill that mission.”
AgrAbility has taken Field to China, Thailand, South Korea, India, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Ukraine, among other countries. He has conducted workshops on adaptations in Sicily for people from the Middle East and provided expertise to AgrAbility for Africa and AgrAbility Ireland. Visitors from Japan, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Sweden and other nations have come to Purdue to learn more about the program and adaptive technologies.
Field also has attended international landmine conferences. “Most landmine victims in the world today are farmers,” he says. He points to Laos, where 14,000 rural residents have lost one or both feet to landmines planted during the Vietnam War. AgrAbility has sent related resources to the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
In developing countries, AgrAbility focuses on making simple aids with indigenous materials. “Our website provides hundreds of solutions for getting work done, but we need more low-cost, locally made solutions,” Field says.
He notes the success of
Free Wheelchair Mission, which has distributed more than a million low-cost wheelchairs designed with locally available resources. When the organization gave out 800 wheelchairs in Trivandrum, India, Field was there to speak on the need for disability resources.
“What are all the adaptive aids you can make from a junked Toyota pickup truck?” he muses. “They’re all over the world. Think of all the parts and the ways you could use them.”
Disabled farmers worldwide share an eagerness to get back to work, Field says. “The farmers I work with don’t want disability benefits; they want to do something. It’s more difficult to sell the concept to bureaucrats, but we could take them to thousands of farms with farmers who are missing an arm or leg.”
Field discussed the needs of disabled farmers at a meeting in Italy in September 2019, which led to productive discussion with representatives from the World Health Organization, World Bank, and other agencies. He has been asked to participate in a workshop in Uganda in April 2020.
Paul Ebner, Animal Sciences professor takes his expertise where it’s needed most.
Paul Ebner’s career as a professor of animal sciences and his commitment to international extension both started to take shape in a South American village that had neither electricity nor running water. After earning an undergraduate degree in political science at Kalamazoo College, Ebner became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay.
Farm animals weren’t a common sight in his home city of Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, but on another continent in a place dependent on nonmechanized agriculture, Ebner began to recognize the importance of livestock production. He arranged to pick up some well-bred pigs from the national agriculture college, which he brought back in feedbags on hot buses. Soon after, he also secured some chickens. He acquired books on how to raise and feed the animals. “And I found out you can go to school for these things,” he says.
He completed master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science at the University of Tennessee and a postdoc in microbiology and immunology at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
When Ebner joined Purdue’s Animal Sciences faculty in 2006, the College of Agriculture was expanding study abroad and international extension opportunities. He joined Mark Russell, professor of agricultural sciences education and communication, in a service-learning program in Romania in collaboration with Heifer International.
“So many times when I was in the Peace Corps, I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” Ebner says. “That’s exactly the experience we want for our students. We want them to be more confident to do something bigger later — and they do.”
After multiple trips to Romania, Ebner was asked to lead Extension-type workshops in Afghanistan. He then joined a Purdue team that from 2013 to 2018 helped establish a new Department of Food Technology at Herat University. USAID funded the program, which is up and running with a full-time faculty and fully equipped teaching and research laboratory.
Now Ebner is focusing on Egypt, where USAID recently launched a five-year cooperative project with Cairo University and four U.S. land-grant universities, including Purdue. Together they’ll create a Center of Excellence for Agriculture in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Egyptian university. “The project is similar to Afghanistan but on a much bigger scale,” Ebner says.
“Projects like this are really about creating a framework where change can happen,” he explains. This summer Ebner will facilitate a series of workshops to better understand needs across the different stakeholder groups and initiatives within the complex project.
In that way, international extension is like extension in Indiana, Ebner says: “The county next to yours is different. You always have to look at people’s history, backgrounds, and desires and needs before you know realistically what you can do to help make things better. So whether it’s the county next door or Egypt, it’s the same process.”
He credits the Office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA) with support for study abroad and help with logistics in Afghanistan and Egypt.
“Food security issues are global,” he adds. “Purdue has tremendous resources, and we’re matching the best resources with the greatest need. Sometimes, that’s not the United States.”
Program Assistant, International Programs in Agriculturepsipes@purdue.edu
Food Science professor Haley Oliver leads $10 million Food Safety project
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded Purdue a $10 million grant to establish the Feed the Future Food Safety Innovation Lab (FSIL). The FSIL will be directed by Haley Oliver, an associate professor of food science, and will collaborate with a group of Purdue and Cornell University researchers to develop programs to improve food safety in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal.
"The 'lab' itself isn't necessarily laboratory infrastructure, as you might think," says Oliver, "but rather a larger and more comprehensive effort to help people understand important aspects of food safety and how to achieve it, so that they can actually demand or request safer foods. Ultimately, this puts pressure on bigger systems like food processing to deliver those safe foods. We can have nutritious food, we can have enough of it, and it can get to the populations that need it; but if it's not safe, we've lost our food security."
Purdue President Mitch Daniels was present for the beginning of the announcement and called it a "big day for Purdue." Feeding the world sustainably is a key theme for Purdue University's College of Agriculture.
The Food Safety Innovation Lab focuses on:
- improving awareness of the need for food safety measures
- supporting local research on food safety issues
- building policy and engagement efforts to disseminate information about food safety research
- developing best practices that can be used by households, communities and commercial stakeholders
Program Manager, International Programs in Agriculturehancoc15@purdue.edu
Meet Amanda Dickson, international Extension program coordinator
Amanda Dickson pours her daily tea from a worn leather cask she acquired in Paraguay 15 years ago. It carries not just tea, but memories of adventure and service — the same opportunities Dickson seeks to give others as international Extension program coordinator in International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA)
The native of Ponca City, Oklahoma studied agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University before joining the Peace Corps in 2003. In three-plus years as an agricultural and community development volunteer in Paraguay, Dickson assessed community needs and creatively addressed them. She introduced techniques for farmers to improve yield and sustainability, new cash crops, leadership training and health education. She extended her service to train incoming volunteers and assist outgoing personnel.
She returned to Oklahoma State to complete a master’s degree in 2009. Jobs were scarce, so when a Korean officemate mentioned the abundance of openings in her home country, Dickson signed on to teach English in Korea, first to elementary and middle schoolers, and then to university students.
Back in the U.S. two-and-a-half years later, she asked a mentor familiar with Extension to recommend the nation’s best Extension site. The answer: “You need to go to Purdue.” Dickson’s Extension career thus began in Brown County — a transition she calls “seamless.”
“I had a program planning background, with few resources in Paraguay and a wealth of resources in Korea,” she says. “I didn't have Indiana ag knowledge, so there was a learning curve there. But I’m able to look at a community and see what their needs are.
That's what draws me to Extension. It's the Peace Corps, here stateside.”
As international Extension program coordinator, Dickson facilitates the cultural competence that comes from adapting to an unfamiliar culture. Toward that end, she asks two key questions: “How can I help Extension educators have international experiences and have them come back as better educators? How do they share those experiences with their local community members?” Her role is to find and fund those opportunities.
She is building a comprehensive program with three tiers of experiences for three distinct audiences. The first is local interaction with international communities in Indiana for people who lack time or interest in overseas travel. The next is weeklong study abroad or group travel involving faculty, Extension educators and students.
Dickson’s top tier — “the most exciting, the most impactful” — takes single or paired travelers on two- or three-week experiences. One such example is IPIA’s farmer-to-farmer program in which U.S. volunteers share specific skills with farmers in Colombia. “It’s all very hands-on and applicable to their lives,” she says.
For faculty, a top-tier experience might be a research project in another country with a tangible outcome that betters the lives of its people as well as those in other areas — a specific farming recommendation, or a product that is produced and sold, for example.
Purdue is a trendsetter in international development, Dickson says, “because our leadership sees its importance and supports it.” But she would like even more members of the university community to tap IPIA resources. “We have a lot of connections internationally, so if faculty want to start research in a certain region, we can open doors for them. On the other side of that, a lot of faculty may not think about the real-world application that Extension can bring to their project.”
International Programs in Agriculturedicksona@purdue.edu
Agricultural Administration Building, Room 8
Dr. Betty Bugusu
Project Director for Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling (FPL)
Managing Director of the Purdue International Food Technology Center (IFTC)
Betty Bugusu was born and raised in a farming community in Western Kenya, Africa. She recalls her family’s maize crop being eaten by insects in field and in storage. Luckily, her father had a second income as a school teacher, and the family raised a bit of money from the sale of tea and coffee grown on their farm. She knows all too well that farmers around her in Kenya were not as fortunate and suffered greatly due to post-harvest loss. Because of that experience, she is determined to make a difference for farmers by reducing post-harvest loss.
Betty earned her BS degree in Kenya and worked as a research scientist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Securing an opportunity to come to Purdue as a visiting scientist in the Biochemistry Department was a turning point in her career. She earned MS and PhD degrees at Purdue in the Food Science Department under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Hamaker.
In her current position, Betty oversees and manages the FPL with more than 20 investigators from eight institutions. The goal of the FPL is to increase access to safe and nutritious food along the value chain. The FPL focuses on improving drying and storage capacity for smallholder farmers; creating market opportunities through increased food processing; and enhancing nutrition through diversified, processed food products.
Betty also manages activities of the IFTC, a food processing-based center designed to link farmers to markets. The aim of the center is to expand markets and reduce food losses in developing countries. The IFTC works with food processors, especially women, to start or improve their food processing businesses by providing technical and management training.
“The best part of working in FPL and IFTC is making a difference in people’s lives.” Betty says, “FPL and IFTC are really helping farmers in developing nations reduce their post-harvest losses.”
Betty has been recognized as a member of the Millionaire Club for being a Co-PI on the FPL award. She envisions a greater role for FPL and IFTC in expanding market opportunities, decreasing post-harvest losses, increasing access to safe and nutritious food, and empowering smallholder farmers around the globe.