In India’s Gujarat State, farmers have suffered great losses in their harvest and income due to high levels of aflatoxin contaminating their peanut crops. To help address this challenge, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU)’s sent volunteer expert Dr. Mehboob Sheikh in June 2017 to train farmers on ways to monitor and prevent aflatoxin contamination, as part of FAMU’s Farmer-to-Farmer program under Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)’s Special Program Support Project (SPSP). This was Dr. Sheikh’s first time volunteering for the VEGA F2F Program, and he trained a total of 400 local partners, including men and women farmers, agricultural extension staff and university faculty.
A key issue that Dr. Sheikh addressed was preventing and minimizing aflatoxin contamination pre- and post-harvest. Dr. Sheikh trained his local partners on methods to detect and decontaminate aflatoxin levels in harvested lots, how to follow best management practices to avoid contamination and how to prevent Aspergillus fungal entry into seed through using drought-tolerant genotypes. Raising awareness of aflatoxin contamination was an important part of Dr. Sheikh’s approach, but he also emphasized focusing on growing and developing drought tolerant and salt tolerant crop varieties in the future. Dr. Sheik identified a diverse range of issues to be addressed in the future, including increasing product value and consumer acceptance, accelerating date palm propagation and multiplication and setting up a demonstration site to test new crop varieties.
Dr. Sheikh went beyond his project volunteer duties and extended his visit, at his own time and expense, after completing his assignment so that he could meet and secure appropriate plant material for future use in FAMU’s F2F program. In addition, he met with Vice Chancellors of the Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences (GKVK) to discuss warm climate grapes and establish and renew Memorandums of Understandings (MOU’s) with those institutions, helping to strengthen F2F partnerships with India and positively impact local partners. As a result of Dr. Sheikh’s outstanding work on this assignment, he volunteered again in January 2018 as part of a new FAMU India F2F project that builds on the important work of their first F2F small grant project to help Indian farmers increase their productivity. Per Dr. Sheikh’s recommendation from his first assignment, part of his 2018 assignment included developing an implementation strategy for a Demonstration Farm at the Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI) in Mandvi, India. Dr. Sheikh’s valuable contributions to FAMU’s F2F program have been critical in bettering Indian farmers’ livelihoods, and has paved a path forward for better addressing challenges with crop varieties and aflatoxin contamination.