Bumpers College students work on agricultural projects in Belize

May 31, 2011
Contact Information:

Dr. Jennie Popp, Professor, Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
479-575-2279, jhpopp@uark.edu

Dr. Nilda Burgos, professor, Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences
479-575-3984, nburgos@uark.edu

Fred Miller, Agricultural Communication Services
479-575-5647, fmiller@uark.edu

Download story

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Nine University of Arkansas students, seven from Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and two from Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, are headed to Belize May 31 to continue an agricultural project begun in 2007.

The project is part of a larger program, “Community Development in a Global Context: An International Service Learning Program,” through the U of A Study Abroad. In addition to the agricultural team from Bumpers College, teams from the College of Engineering and the Walton College of Business, 31 students in all, are heading to the Stann Creek District of Belize where they will work in the Caribbean coastal city of Dangriga and surrounding communities.

Jennie Popp, professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness, and Nilda Burgos, professor of crop, soil and environmental sciences lead the Bumpers College group.

The students going this year are Doug Wolf, Samantha Jones and Andrea Love, all environmental, soil and water sciences majors from Fayetteville; Tandie Bailey, an environmental, soil and water sciences major from Bentonville; Brady Long and Jessica House, both agricultural business majors from Fayetteville; Kayla Boling, an agricultural business major from Gravette; Nikki Lippert, an international relations major from Fayetteville; and Jordan Burns, an earth science major from Fayetteville.

In 2007, Bumpers College students developed a sustainable garden for St. Mathew's Elementary School in Pomona, a town near Dangriga, Popp said. The team worked with the school's principal, agricultural teachers and students from a junior college in the nearby city of Dangriga and Women Working for Children, a Belize service organization.

Popp said many of the students at the St. Mathew's school are malnourished. “They’d come to school hungry and the school had to determine who they could feed each day because there is not a steady supply of food.”

Students developed a plan to build a garden to grow hot peppers. “We began with a cash crop that the school could sell to help raise money that would be used to buy food that couldn’t be grown in the garden,” Popp said.

The students also developed a marketing plan and helped the school build relationships with a market in which to sell their produce.

“On later trips, we expanded the garden to include vegetables that could supplement the school’s menu for its students,” Popp said.

Popp said this will be the last year the Bumpers College group works at the St. Matthew’s School. “That’s a good thing,” she said, “because it means the school is taking ownership of the garden, which was always the plan.”

Brenton Gongora, a teacher at St. Matthews, turned the garden into a competition for the students. “That made the project fun for the kids and encourages them to keep it working for the school,” Popp said.

The St. Matthews project is only one of several the Bumpers students will be conducting during the three weeks they’ll be in Belize. Popp said the team will also be working with the Agriculture and Natural Resources Institute, an agricultural college in Dangriga, to design and build a seedling nursery.

“Commercially available seedlings are very expensive in Belize,” Popp said. For that reason, many people there don’t grow their own food.

“There’s also a myth in Belize that growing your own food is very expensive,” Popp said. “In fact, it’s very expensive to buy food in the markets because agricultural production is geared towards export; products that meet daily food needs are mostly imported.”

The college will be able to sell the seedlings they grow at a reasonable cost and still raise money for the college. Popp said the team also plans to help St. Matthews School to design and build portable seedling nurseries.

They will also help two schools in Dangriga design and build garden systems appropriate for their needs. They will design a container garden for one of these, Popp said, because the school doesn’t have land available for a garden. At the other school, they will design a raised bed garden in the yard of a teacher who is making the space available.

The Bumpers students have prepared 17 lesson plans to teach agricultural production and agricultural business that can be used in the schools, Popp said.

They also are working with Productive Organization for Women in Action, a Belize group, to deliver composting, pest management and marketing workshops that the women will teach to others in the community. Popp said last year’s group worked with POWA to set up container and raised bed gardens.

In another project, the Bumpers students are acquiring cuttings from moringa trees, the leaves of which have high nutritional value, donated by an American who operates an organic farm in Belize.

Finally, the students will hold an agricultural career day for high school and first year college students.

“Belize high school students have to declare either an agricultural track or engineering track for their last year,” Popp said. “We deliver a career day every other year, alternating with the College of Engineering students.”

“We’re going to accomplish all that in three weeks,” Popp said.