U.S. Partner: Richard P. Dick (The Ohio State University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016
A major challenge facing Senegal is the capacity to feed a rapidly growing population against a background of climate change and low inherent soil fertility. Scientifically validated agricultural systems are now urgently needed that optimize crop productivity despite water and heat stresses. With previous support from the National Science Foundation, the collaboration to date between the Senegalese and U.S. scientists working on this PEER Science project has led to the discovery of two previously unrecognized shrub species that can coexist with crops on smallholder farms and have the ability to lift water from wet sub- to dry surface soil and to improve the soil. The primary goals of this new project are to understand how the harboring of beneficial nematodes (microscopic roundworms) and arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (AMF) by shrub roots and associated rhizosphere can increase or maintain crop productivity in a climate change scenario of greater water and temperature stress. The project will be mainly based on lab experiments in a climate chamber with humidity and illumination to generate varying climate scenarios.
The main expected outcome will be progress toward developing optimized shrub-crop systems that will help subsistence farmers withstand climatic change stress. The project should serve USAID strategies of (1) adapting agricultural systems to increase, or at least, maintain crop production in climate changes while preserving biodiversity and related services at field scale, (2) creating wealth through better management of Senegal’s natural resources and development of sustainable agriculture, and (3) strengthening institutional and human capacities in the fields of agricultural education and research that benefit to smallholder farmers.
Summary of Recent Activities
A large portion of this project involves lab experiments in a climate chamber with controlled humidity and illumination to generate climate scenarios. Unfortunately, Dr. Ndour continues to encounter lengthy delays in the process for purchasing the chamber. The Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) was to make a final bid choice by the end of April 2014 so that the instrument could finally be procured. This has pushed back the experimental schedule, but in the meantime Dr. Ndour and his team plan to refine their research questions using a regular test chamber without climate control. The team has also identified a postdoctoral researcher and is in the process of selecting a PhD student from a pool of recent master’s graduates. The postdoctoral researcher has begun tests on nematofauna in April.
While awaiting their climate chamber, the team has been working with their U.S. partners on the NSF-funded PIRE project in Senegal to organize the 2014 MicroTrop, a four-week intensive course in tropical microbial ecology to be held May 19-June 13. The purpose of the course is to develop scientific knowledge within the context of practical applications to solve agricultural challenges in a sustainable and ecological manner and create the basis for future international collaborations. The curriculum and a multinational group of faculty have been selected. Of the ten African students taking part in the course, five are being funded by the PEER project.
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