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Professor at SCC Embarks on Kenya Travel to Learn and Form University Partnership

Jun 19, 2013 - | 04:53 PM -

Roberta BarbalaceRoberta Barbalace, an instructor in Biology and Environmental Science at Somerset Community College (SCC), is preparing to travel to Western Kenya as a participant in the Kenya Exchange Program through Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Barbalace leaves for Kenya on June 30, 2013. 

While in Kenya, Barbalace will meet with the Environmental and Earth Science Department faculty at Maseno University to discuss their research, tour their facilities and present a proposal for a partnership between Somerset Community College and Maseno University to study global sustainable agriculture.

For many years, representatives from the United States and European countries have been going to Africa to provide training and teach farmers about agricultural techniques, including the planting of native crops in place of maize, or corn. Maize is one of the non-native plants introduced in the region about 500 years ago during colonization. While it is now the staple crop of 90% of Kenyans, the future of maize production is in jeopardy because the climate of Kenya has changed. The rains no longer come when they are needed most, and crops frequently shrivel and die in the field, or get washed away by extreme flooding and erosion. 

Fortunately Kenyan universities have been working closely with grassroots farmers to develop new farming techniques to meet the needs of a changing environment. This includes unique irrigation techniques, green manuring and a return to some of the indigenous crops such as bambara nuts, pigeon beans, African night shade and vegetable amaranth. The sustainable agriculture systems that have been developed in Kenya are ones that could sustain grassroots farmers in the United States as our climate changes, allowing both groups to learn from each other.

It is estimated that around 200 varieties of native crops have not been grown in Kenya for decades. Fortunately, seeds from many of these crops have been stored at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) in South Africa.  The MSB has two locations, one in National Herbarium in Pretoria and another based at Kirstenbosch National Botanical garden in Cape Town.

After Barbalace visits Kenya, a professor from Maseno University is planning to visit Somerset Community College for a month in the fall of 2014. The individual who comes to SCC will be available to meet with classes, present seminars and/or workshops at SCC and other KCTCS campuses, make presentations at local organizations and present at the International Festivals at SCC Somerset and Laurel Campuses. Arrangements will also be made to take the visiting professor to meet with researchers at Kentucky institutions of higher learning and visit a variety of agricultural establishments and points of interest depending upon specific interests of the visiting professor.  A formal partnership between the two higher education institutions, which Barbalace will be working to facilitate, will provide many opportunities for both Maseno University and Somerset Community College. In addition to faculty exchange opportunities, there will be opportunities for student exchanges and group tours for students and faculty to study environmental issues.

Barbalace and three other individuals will be traveling under the leadership of Dr. Iddah Otieno, Director of Kenya Exchange Program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.