Through his research and personal action, Darlington Sabasi is making a difference for students and farmers in Washington state and around the world.
A fourth-year doctoral student in economic sciences at Washington State University—and a farm owner himself—Sabasi is working to help farmers around the globe access new technology and improve their practices. And, on WSU’s Pullman campus and back in his home country of Zimbabwe, he helps students of all ages get the most out of their education.
From farmer to researcher
Sabasi grew up on a farm outside Marondera, a city of 80,000. His parents grew tomatoes, onions, cabbages and carrots, selling them in the nearby capital of Harare. Sabasi attended a rural primary school while living with his grandparents, then went to middle school and a private high school in the city. On days off, he worked on his parents’ farm, driving the tractor and helping sell produce.
As a teen, he decided on a career in agribusiness. His academic journey took him from Zimbabwe’s Africa University to WSU by way of Michigan and Wyoming. Along with his School of Economic Sciences doctorate, expected completion next May, he is pursuing a master’s degree in statistics from WSU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Agricultural productivity is his specialty. Thanks to funding from the Michael McCullough Scholarship, he presented research on two production issues at the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association conference, held this past July in San Francisco.
First, Sabasi explored credit constraints on agricultural productivity in the United States. He wants to understand the role that lenders play in determining when and how farmers access technology, and how that impacts production.
“Technological advancement has driven farm productivity,” Sabasi said. “But some farmers just don’t have the financial resources to adopt new technology.”
One solution: programs that help farmers access credit.
Sabasi’s other presentation looked at nitrogen fertilizer use in the western African nation of Ghana. Better use of nitrogen could see Ghana’s corn yields triple.
“If fertilizer is affordable, and farmers are educated about the benefits of using it, and apply the right amount, they’ll see their yields go up substantially,” he said.
Starting his own business
In Zimbabwe, Sabasi and his older brother Shelton run their own farm business, Darshhortco.
“We always wanted something like our parents’ farm,” Sabasi said. With help from family, they rented land and started growing potatoes.
Farming in Zimbabwe is far from easy. Due to widespread unemployment, buying power is low. Intermittent electricity shortages mean thirsty potatoes don’t always get water. But the two brothers do not plan to give up.
“I have a role to play in creating a better Zimbabwe,” said Sabasi.
Children’s scholarship fund
In his home country, Sabasi knew many other rural children who didn’t get the chances he did.
“Some kids who were with me were brilliant, but they never went anywhere after they finished their primary education,” Sabasi said. “When I look back, I see it as wasted talent— but not because the kids didn’t have it.”
They simply lacked the minimal funds to advance.
Two years ago, Sabasi and a few friends founded the Destiny Scholarship Fund, which helps rural children in Zimbabwe pay their school fees.
The fund helps 20 elementary-age pupils pay for school, which costs about $20 for a three-month term, and Sabasi said there are plans to help more students and start a website, raising visibility and increasing partnerships.
“We don’t have a lot of money. But we don’t need a lot of money to help these kids,” he said.
A campus voice
This fall, Sabasi begins his first term as district representative to WSU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), representing every grad student and doctoral scholar in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).
“We face challenges as graduate students,” said Sabasi. “Sometimes you don’t know where to go to solve those challenges, or who to talk to.”
As a district rep, he offers solutions, makes connections and brings student concerns about issues like health care, child support and tuition assistance to light.
“Professional development is one of our main focuses this year,” Sabasi said.
Sabasi encourages graduate students to get to know him at the upcoming CAHNRS Fall Festival, 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, September 10, at Spillman plaza, and the GPSA Welcome Back Social, noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, at WSU’s Student Recreation Center Backyard. All WSU graduate and professional scholars with a WSU student ID are welcome, as are family and close friends. Learn more about the social here.