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UW-RF to Help Mexican Professors, Ag Producers

By Jenny Bjelland
UW-RF News Bureau

MARCH 24, 2005--The farmers of the Tierra Caliente or "hot land" region of Mexico work hard to produce corn, papaya, tomatoes, watermelon, mangos, cattle, sheep, poultry, goats, fish and bees.

However, the region's production chains also face a large number of problems. High production costs, lack of technology, scant packaging facilities, parasites and diseases, along with few structured agricultural organizations, trade systems, and market knowledge only contribute to the extremely high poverty level in the region.

"There is tourism and trade or commercialization and then agriculture," says Christina Albarran Farias, a professor of production management and international marketing at the Instituto Tecnológico Agraria No. 25 in Altomirano, Mexico. "It is a very productive region of Mexico, but also a very poor region. The Guerrero state within the Tierra Caliente region is the third poorest state in all of Mexico."

A grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will partner the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and ITA-25, an agricultural university with more than 1,200 students, to help build an agricultural infrastructure and a producer education system to overcome the poverty-induced obstacles of Tierra Caliente’s agricultural industry.

The $237,000 grant was awarded to UW-RF and agricultural economics Professor Gregg Hadley by the USAID Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development and the U.S.-Mexico Training, Internships, Exchanges, and Scholarships Initiative.

The purpose of the grant is "to help rural Mexican colleges to further develop their faculty's knowledge in subjects that will help to improve their rural economies," says Hadley. "In the end this will hopefully lead to the development of a producer’s school in the Tierra Caliente region where producers can learn to solve their own problems."

Albarran Farias is the first of seven ITA-25 scholars to travel to UW-RF within the next year and a half. She was selected because she speaks English and has experience working with producers. Recently, she has been working to organize the mango producers and to work with them to create a marketing program.

"Obviously you cannot get a producer who is 50 years old and does not know how to read or write into a standard collegiate classroom setting," says Farias. "Learning has to come through experience and through verbal explanations. So I think this program will help a lot with the idea of bringing education directly to the producers through the use of entrepreneurs' or producers' education programs."

Spending two semesters at UW-RF, ITA-25 scholars will be involved in both classroom training and field instruction. The professors from ITA-25 also will receive training in adult education and classroom training in agribusiness or management to increase their knowledge in economics and the tactics involved with marketing agricultural products.

In addition, through one-on-one work with county- and state-level UW Extension faculty, Farias and the remaining scholars will learn to organize, implement and evaluate extension programs. They will also investigate actual producer-owned agribusinesses throughout Wisconsin.

As the faculty members of ITA-25 return to the Tierra Caliente region, they will begin to establish their own extension-type adult producer education programs. Upon completion of those programs, UW-RF faculty members and UW-Extension faculty will travel to Altamirano, Mexico, to evaluate and help improve the ITA-25 faculty programs.

The endeavor is special one for UW-RF, notes Hadley, as UW-RF's grant proposal was the only higher education partnership grant accepted from a small university not collaborating with a larger one. UW-RF also was the only school to choose to aid and educate one of the poorer Mexican states.

Without this grant, the array of small producers within the Tierra Caliente region would continue to struggle producing, marketing and adding value to their products.

"The producers are very smart, but they don't have the accurate knowledge for so many things," said Farias. "They don't have the tools--financial, or even educational tools that could help to better their work--to make them entrepreneurs."

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Last updated: Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:21 Central Daylight Time

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