Message From ISU Dean Wendy Wintersteen

Message From ISU Dean Wendy Wintersteen

Iowa State University agriculture dean explains what's going on with a project in Africa that's been the subject of controversy recently, due to misleading national news reports.

Dr. Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, posted the following message on the ISU website January 10, 2012. She explains what's going on with an agricultural development project in the African nation of Uganda, and how ISU is involved. There have been several articles written about a similar project in Tanzania recently by national news media that have resulted in controversy. Here's what the dean has to say, to help clear up misinformation being spread by misleading news reports and some opinion pieces and letters to the editor.

Beginning last summer, a handful of news articles, opinion pieces and letters have questioned or criticized our involvement with a project in Tanzania. I'd like to provide you with information on the nature of our involvement and clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions on our role.

The story starts in Uganda, the country adjacent to Tanzania to the north. Since 2003, Iowa State University has partnered with many organizations to create a successful program in rural Uganda that provides education to small farmers and vulnerable families. Improvements in food production, human nutrition, child survival and clean water availability have been critical goals. With eight years of experience, we have learned how agricultural education at the grassroots level can be a powerful tool to combat hunger and poverty. Transforming lives is not too strong a term. The Uganda programs, conducted by the College's Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, have improved the livelihoods of thousands of rural Ugandans and moved many from malnutrition to health and from poverty to sustainable livelihoods. The CSRL website, http://www.srl.ag.iastate.edu/, highlights several of these stories.

In the fall of 2009, AgriSol Energy contacted Iowa State University to ask if we would provide advice and assistance on planning a small farmer education program similar to our Uganda project. As in Uganda, an effort in Tanzania would focus on human nutrition, child survival, clean water and improving food production.

We worked with the company to help guide this part of its project. In initial discussions, the intent had been to take advantage of the experiences gained through the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and for the center to eventually develop these programs in partnership with the company, Tanzanian universities and other nonprofit groups in the country. We viewed the project as another opportunity to work with small farmers and families, and to apply lessons learned from Uganda in a different country. We also viewed it as another avenue for our students to engage in service learning in a similar way to how they've participated in the Uganda program.

Before any educational or outreach program in another country can begin, a lot of listening must come first. An initial step was held in February 2011, when Iowa State participated in a workshop in Tanzania for Tanzanian representatives in government, business and academia. The meeting, led by Tanzanians, helped to identify a number of key needs and possible responses that would need to be considered in developing educational programs for small farmers as part of the AgriSol project. Their ideas included demonstration farms, skill-building training programs, biodiversity reserves on fragile land and HIV/AIDS training and awareness programs.

One investor in AgriSol Energy is Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter. In May 2011, Mr. Rastetter began serving his appointment as a member of the Iowa Board of Regents. In light of this change in Mr. Rastetter's role, we decided that we would no longer directly participate in the Tanzania project. We would only serve in a limited advisory capacity. This was done specifically to address any perceptions or questions on potential conflicts. It is widely known that Mr. Rastetter has supported agricultural programs at Iowa State. He has given more than $2.2 million, including $1.75 million in 2007 to establish an endowed chair in agricultural entrepreneurship and $500,000 to help renovate Curtiss Hall.

It is important to note that Iowa State did not sign or execute any agreement or contract with AgriSol. The university has never had a financial stake, investment or commercial interest in the project. At no time were we asked to develop educational programs in areas of Tanzania where refugees were living. The company worked with individual consultants from three countries, which included Iowa State faculty members, to provide technical expertise on the business side of the proposed operation.

We're proud of our work in many different countries and the reputation Iowa State enjoys worldwide in agricultural research, education and extension and outreach. We're extremely proud of our work in preparing globally competent college graduates. We've worked hard to provide our students with many opportunities to gain international experience. Each year about 300 of our students go abroad. In 2010-2011, we offered study-abroad programs in 20 different countries and awarded nearly $168,000 in study-abroad scholarships.

A year ago we devoted an entire issue of our alumni magazine, STORIES in Agriculture and Life Sciences, to global connections (PDF). It is a reflection of the depth, scope and care that goes into our relationships in many countries.

On a side note, we have faculty currently involved in four projects in Tanzania. One, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to enhance seed policies among several African countries. The other three, in partnership with other universities and all funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, focus on improving yields and nutritional quality of staple crops; agricultural productivity; and food security.

Iowa State University's mission is creating, sharing and applying knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place. Our strategic plan (PDF) is clear about applying the land-grant university mission of science, education, and extension and outreach to meet global challenges of the 21st century — and we will continue to do so. We strongly believe that responsible public-private partnerships strengthen the work that's necessary to improve quality of life, both in Iowa and globally.

It is our hope that AgriSol continues its approach of integrating within the scope of its project a socially and environmentally responsible program that helps Tanzanian farmers and rural families improve their lives. 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 be able to achieve the kinds of results we've seen in rural Uganda.

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