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GUEST COLUMN

By Staff | Feb 17, 2012

Recent news and opinion pieces have questioned or criticized Iowa State University’s involvement with a project in Tanzania.

The story starts in rural Uganda, adjacent to Tanzania to the north. Since 2003, ISU has partnered with many organizations to create a successful program there that provides education to small farmers and vulnerable families.

We have learned how ag education at the grassroots level can be a powerful tool to combat hunger and poverty and improve food security, human nutrition, child survival and the availability of clean water.

In the fall of 2009, AgriSol Energy contacted ISU to provide advice and assistance on planning a similar program in Tanzania, focusing on human nutrition, child survival, clean water and food security.

We worked with the company to help guide this part of its project. ISU did not sign, or execute, any agreement or contract with AgriSol, and has never had a financial stake, investment or commercial interest in the project.

We viewed it as another avenue for our students to engage in service learning as they had in Uganda. An initial step was held in February 2011, when ISU participated in a workshop in Tanzania for representatives in government, business and academia.

Led by Tanzanians, the workshop identified the key needs to consider in developing programs for small farmers as part of the AgriSol project, including demonstration farms, skill-building training programs, biodiversity reserves on fragile land and HIV/AIDS training and awareness programs.

In May 2011, Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter, one of AgriSol Energy’s investors, began serving as a member of the Iowa Board of Regents. In light of this change in his role, we decided to no longer directly participate in the Tanzania project, but to serve only in a limited advisory capacity.

This was done specifically to address any perceptions or questions on potential conflicts. It is well-known that Mr. Rastetter’s philanthropy has supported agricultural programs at ISU.

We’re proud of our work in many different countries and the reputation ISU enjoys worldwide in agricultural research, education and extension and outreach.

Our strategic plan is clear about applying the land-grant university mission of science, education, and extension and outreach to meet global challenges.

We will continue, in any advice we provide, to emphasize the process of listening to the people of Tanzania, especially those most vulnerable, in order to achieve results like we’ve seen among the rural families of Uganda.

Wendy Wintersteen is also director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. Contact her at wwinters@iastate.edu.

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