Sustainability in Tropical Agriculture: Training Practitioners

Author: Kathy Mayer
Summer study in Costa Rica

With a career goal of improving the world’s fresh water supplies, Eduardo Anzueto headed to Costa Rica’s Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda (EARTH) University and neighboring farms in summer 2009. It was his first global engineering experience, now a priority for Purdue University engineering students.

Anzueto, a junior in environmental and natural resources engineering, was the only engineer among the 17 Purdue and University of Florida students representing economics, animal science, environmental science and other areas. He says the experience broadened his horizons.

“I’ve known a lot of different cultures and about the poverty there, but being with students who had not been there before and working with people and seeing how they struggle was a very eye-opening experience, especially working alongside the farmers,” says Anzueto, a Texas native. He has previously visited Costa Rica, as well as Guatemala, his father’s homeland, and Mexico, his mother’s.

“Latin American is my culture, so Costa Rica feels like home,” he says. “But their system of working is much different than ours — having to deal with the government, the resources, production levels and how inaccessible things are (to everyone).”

Coordinated by Lori Unruh Snyder, Purdue assistant professor of agronomy, the study trip combined classroom lectures and hands-on farm activities. Titled “Sustainability in Tropical Agriculture: Training Practitioners,” the course was a first. Snyder will repeat it in 2010.

“Our goal was to introduce the concepts of sustainable agriculture through work practice, integrating all majors and the colleges together in a team approach to learning,” Snyder says.

Classroom time with four EARTH University professors included lessons in community engagement, entrepreneurship, soils, animal science, organic farming, different agriculture practices and other areas. On the farms, the students analyzed problems and discussed herbicides, pesticides, land use, productivity and other topics.

“We formed teams and helped answer questions like, ‘Why am I not getting the same type of fruit my neighbor is getting?’ And we worked the farm. We experienced it.”

The group also toured a hybrid cotton plant and had some time for sightseeing.

“Eduardo’s perspective was unique and substantive,” Snyder says. And his Spanish / English translation skills were a bonus for both the U.S. students and Costa Rican farmers.

Anzueto hopes to participate in a similar experience in France while still an undergraduate.

“We’re a global community now,” Anzueto says of the value students can reap from such international experiences. “The world is shrinking, and we need to find a way to all work together.”

He hopes his eventual impact will be in improving water supplies. “I would like to design more sustainable ways of getting fresh water, influencing the effects agriculture has on fresh water and learning how to plan and take care of watersheds,” he says.

After graduation he plans to join the Peace Corps and work in Guatemala for a while. “People need a lot of help there,” he says. “And throughout the world, water is more precious than oil.”

Eduardo Anzueto takes his learning to Costa Rica