Student Stories: Students travel to Cambodia, Thailand to assist small farmers

A group of 12 Penn State students traveled to Thailand and Cambodia last winter to witness recent agricultural developments that could play a role in alleviating poverty and ending world hungerThrough an embedded trip in a combined Horticulture and International Agriculture course in the College of Agricultural Sciences, students focused specifically on how operators of small farms in those countries balance the needs of producing food with the needs of their diverse environments.Jennie Diehl and Eric Ranck were among the group, and they agreed the most important part of the trip was the experience of seeing firsthand how the farmers lived.The course was designed to help students achieve a better understanding of Southeast Asia in general and help them identify critical issues facing small agricultural systems in that region."Farmers in Thailand and Cambodia have environmental, educational and resource constraints that limit yield and production," said Ranck, a senior agroecology major from Mifflin. "Many farmers are subject to things out of their control especially when it comes to land."Diehl, a senior horticulture major from Newburg, said most of the plants they saw on the trip had nutrient deficiencies and pest problems."Pest problems in the developing world are of great concern because personal protective equipment rarely is worn when pesticides are applied," she said. "Seeing improper pesticide use in these countries made me grateful for the regulations we have in the United States."Another goal of the course was to help students articulate the characteristics of small farms in the region.Ranck and Diehl worked together during the trip identifying plants, pests and farming techniques. The students toured many farms throughout the region, and one of their projects focused on making a fermented feed for pigs from banana stems.The idea behind incorporating effective micro-organisms from fermentation into animal feed, said Diehl, is to build up the beneficial microbes in the pig's stomach, which boosts their immune systems.The third goal of the course was to help students critically assess possible food-security strategies for strengthening agricultural systems in Southeast Asia."There is a great need for educating farmers on sustainable farming practices," said Ranck. "Farmers want methods that reduce risk and offer fast returns, which makes developmental projects difficult because they take time."

Learn about the plant sciences major, which offers four options for students to choose from: agroecology, crop production, horticulture and plant sciences. 

Eric Ranck and Jennie Diehl agreed the most important part of the trip was the experience of seeing firsthand how the farmers lived. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated February 13, 2015