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Horticultural and Landscape Architecture student discusses summer research and training in the Philippines

With limited international travel experience and a student’s budget, Matthew Haan was thrilled when he received the opportunity to go to the Philippines this past summer with the Plant Science for Global Food Security (PSGFS) program. Haan, a senior in horticulture and landscape architecture, learned about many new topics on the trip, including rice production, rice research and Filipino culture. 

The PSGFS program launched in October 2021, and since then Purdue has selected eight students a year to participate.  Students are chosen from Purdue and five other partner institutions: North Carolina A & T University, Florida A &M University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Tuskegee University and University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.  

PSGFS program participants travel to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines for six weeks.  

The six weeks are divided into two parts: three weeks of a training course called “Rice: Research to Production” (RR2P) and three weeks of hands-on research. A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, awarded to Purdue University, covers all student expenses. 

Haan spent his first three weeks in the Philippines immersed in information about “everything rice related.” Haan explained that not only did he learn about “rice’s physiological characteristics and traditional and modern methods for growing rice,” but he also got to see those methods up close. 

“I actually got to plow with the carabao, which is sort of an ox,” Haan said. “You could see fields plowed using technologies ranging from traditional, which has been used for thousands of years, to modern, like drum seeders and transplanters using machinery.” 

After completing the RR2P training, Haan moved into three weeks of research. During this time, students got to pick their research topics, and then, with the help of a senior scientist, they dove into research. Haan chose to research the effects of submergence on rice. 

“There's a lot of flooding in the Philippines from monsoons and rain, so targeting rice varieties that can withstand potentially weeks of flooding is really important,” Haan said. “I had 116 varieties of rice and whichever ones survived are candidates for entering back into the genetic pipeline to breed for future years.”

Interspersed with training and research, Haan and the other students explored the Philippines through socio-cultural field trips, like a visit to the Banaue Rice Terraces. The terraces, which are built into the sides of mountains, have existed for over 2,000 years and hold agricultural and cultural significance. Haan got to learn about the terraces’ history firsthand through interviewing an 89-year-old farmer named Ana. 

“Ana has been farming her entire life,” Haan said. “It was really impactful to talk with her and learn about her way of life and how things have changed. If I traveled the Philippines on my own, I would have never known this way of life existed.” 

Haan, now back at Purdue, has a new understanding of not only rice and rice production but also of the world. “The trip put into perspective how much interconnectivity the world has with each other beyond agriculture,” Haan explained. “I was able to go to another country, not able speak the language, but I still formed connections with people totally different from me.” 

Applications for the 2024 PSGFS trip are currently open and close at 5 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2024. Students from any major are welcome to apply.   

Learn more information about the program HERE or contact Gary Burniske grburniske@purdue.edu or Diane Wang drwang@purdue.edu

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