UMD Students and Alumni Work Together to Bring the Latest Agricultural Research and Technology to Rural Africa

Cedric Nwafor, President of ROOTS Africa

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

February 22, 2018 Samantha Watters

With emerging issues like a changing climate affecting irrigation needs and weather patterns, greater pest resistance, economic hardship, and food safety concerns, focusing on agriculture and the path to a sustainable and healthy food supply for all parts of the world is critical. To this end, Cedric Nwafor, a senior Agriculture and Resource Economics major in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has founded ROOTS Africa where he aims to invigorate communities in rural Africa in need of agricultural education, and apply his passion to collectively tackle some of the region’s most pressing issues.

Collaboratively with students, faculty, and alumni, Nwafor has cultivated a partnership with the Liberian International Christian College (LICC) in Nimba, Liberia to develop a new type of educational experience with a study abroad component over spring break. UMD students will spend time in Liberia working directly with local students and gaining hands-on experience in rural agriculture and resource management. Former University of Maryland Extension (UME) educators and college alumni Anna and Nathan Glenn are currently working at the school in Liberia and collaborating with Nwafor and David Myers, UME Principal Agent and Agriculture Program Leader, to choose a problem facing the region that the group can address.

ROOTS Africa is designed to create a common international platform where youth can share agricultural ideologies, discuss challenges faced in this field, and work towards finding possible solutions to these issues. “Growing up in rural Africa, you can tell that most people think of agricultural jobs as poor jobs or jobs of necessity,” says Nwafor. “But having the perspective of coming to the United States and learning about all the amazing advances in agriculture and the global food security issues we are facing, I love getting people in Africa excited about the agricultural industry and thinking about ways to advance their own practices and improve their lives.”

Through the coordinated efforts of the office of International Programs in Agriculture and Natural Resources (IPAN), ROOTS Africa has been an educational experience for everyone involved, and a true collaboration between the local community and UMD students, faculty, and alumni working on site. “We have worked with the community and school in Liberia from the start to identify their needs, fill educational gaps, and provide the support they really need. That not only makes the program unique, but has made this just as much of a learning opportunity for us as the students in Liberia. None of this was done on our own. In Liberia, we had students taking photos at local markets and assessing the needs of the area. Here, we have many students with many different assignments who tackle projects all on their own and hone event planning, project management, fundraising, marketing, and community building skills that aren’t always taught hands-on in the classroom. Personally, I’ve learned so much about the logistics of taking an idea from start to finish and entrepreneurship that has been really rewarding. Things never go just as you expect, but you find new ways to adapt and get things done.”

The program has been fundraising for their trip to Liberia over spring break. They are working with the LICC as their first site, with the goal of expanding to other schools in Uganda and Rwanda soon after. “We want to build something sustainable that can ultimately be servicing multiple locations simultaneously,” explains Nwafor.

And they are already growing quickly as an organization. “We went from having 11 members last fall to 29 members currently,” says Nwafor. “We set up a table at Stampfest to rally support for our program, and the reception was really inspiring. The fact that we recruited so many more members in just a few hours shows how much this issue resonates with so many people. We’ve seen this with the non-profit and international organizations that have wanted to get involved and been kind enough to donate to our group as well.” These organizations and sources include International Programs in Agriculture, a Do Good Mini Grant, Jon Clifton: Global Managing Partner of Gallup, a Panda Express Fundraiser, the Canis Majoris Foundation, and other funding sources and contributions from members.

ROOTS Africa is currently planning a book drive for the LICC in preparation for their trip. The school has hardly any agricultural textbooks, and they are working to get at least two copies each of six essential farming textbooks to build up their library. Once they arrive, they have a packed schedule of educational lectures and trainings. “We will be providing training in pest management with Mr. Myers, soil testing, general agricultural production techniques, agricultural entrepreneurship, and organizing a future agricultural expo,” says Nwafor.

For more information on ROOTS Africa or to get involved, contact Cedric Nwafor.