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Colombian exchange: WSU scientist teams with Latin American researchers to solve crop challenges

Derick Jiwan overlooks Colombian vista
Derick Jiwan, a WSU postdoctoral researcher, explored Colomboan agriculture, and research partnerships, in a recent visit.

In the fields and orchards of Colombia, farmers, scientists, students and teachers are working together to save important crops like bananas, cocoa, oil palm and coffee from devastating diseases.

Derick Jiwan, a postdoctoral researcher with the Washington State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, is helping build those partnerships—and expand them to WSU.

“Colombia is an untapped resource for collaboration,” said Jiwan, who organized the first AgriScience workshop this June in Manizales, Colombia—the heart of the nation’s “Coffee Triangle.”

“It’s an open door for our students to work on real-world problems like coffee borer beetle or oil palm shoot rot,” he said.

Derick Jiwan

A model program

Funded by a scholarship from the Colombian Institute of Educational Credit and Technical Studies Abroad, Jiwan joined Colombian farmers, scientists and biotech professionals to share cutting-edge agricultural technologies, from sequencers to beneficial microbes, during a two-day workshop hosted by the Catholic University of Manizales.

“This is something I’ve been working on as a side project,” said Jiwan. “I wanted to grow personally, and contribute to WSU’s Drive to 25”— the university’s effort to become a top-25 national research institution.

On his tours of a coffee ranch, commercial research labs, and a government institute where high-school science campers learn to use high-tech instruments, Jiwan saw collaborative efforts in action.

“If it works, Colombia could become a model for all of Latin America,” he said.

Jiwan, center, at the agriscience workshop hosted by the Catholic University of Manizales

New student experience

Jiwan is now working with Washington State University’s Office of International Programs to start a study-abroad program that would allow WSU students to shadow Colombian researchers working on farming challenges.

He returns to Colombia this September to see how the partnerships are faring, and is organizing a second agricultural science workshop there in 2018.

“Everyone there is excited by the potential to work together with WSU and make new discoveries,” Jiwan said.

“We all need to cooperate to face global issues,” said Jaime Restrepo, an AgriScience workshop participant and commercialization manager at Bioprotection S.A.S., a Colombian research lab working to save coffee, banana, flowers, oil palm and vegetables.

“The only way forward is to have strong collaborations with leading research teams and institutions,” added Marco Aurelio Cristancho, scientific director at a Colombian research group called BIOS. “Student exchange is an excellent way of strengthening this collaboration.”

“We want to encourage and involve students to carry our work forward,” added Restrepo.

Lessons learned in Colombia could speed up discoveries and eliminate the spread of devastating diseases.

“These efforts would help WSU address global issues in agriculture and help feed the world,” said Jiwan. “We do good work individually, but when businesses, farmers and academics work together, we can do great things.”