The College of Engineering will collaborate with universities in Nigeria on different STEM programs to solve some of the agricultural issues the country is facing, like desertification, the process of fertile land transforming into desert as a result of drought and poor agriculture.
The college signed “memorandums of understanding,” which are formal but not legally binding agreements, with each of the five Nigerian universities. This is the first time in Temple’s history that a college has entered into a formal agreement with institutions in Africa, said Jamie Bracey, director of STEM education, outreach and research.
The college plans to send graduate students from Africa to Main Campus to finish their degrees in STEM, while also learning medical and engineering skills.
The university’s correspondence with Nigerian schools began when a 2004 electrical engineering alumnus, Yusuf Bashir, went home to Nigeria and recognized his country’s need for improved agricultural systems, which he relayed to Bracey.
Africa is experiencing desertification and drought in 15 of its northernmost states, affecting almost 64 percent of the land there, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment. Nigeria currently has no strategies in place to combat the rapid desert encroachment, Bracey said.
Bashir was interested in changing the agriculture in his home country through engineering with aquaponics systems, which would allow them to grow crops indoors, Bracey said.
Aquaponics systems raise fish and grow plants in one integrated, soil-free system. The waste from fish provide the plants with an organic food source as the plants filter the water for the fish. This system avoids pesticides, weeds, pests, water waste and other problems associated with soil-based gardening.
Bashir flew a delegation of eight people from Kaduna, Nigeria, to Temple in August. The university hosted a full day of workshops about how they can support the programs in North Philadelphia and Kaduna. The delegation has been here four times since August.
The five universities across the “bread basket” region of sub-Saharan Africa include Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna State University, Yobe State University, University of Maiduguri and Modibbo Adama University of Technology. They are located on fertile lands where large amounts of wheat and grains are produced.
The university also signed an MOU with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to help develop agricultural systems, like aquaponics systems, in Northern Africa. Michigan State University and Clark Atlanta University have also asked to be partners on this project, Bracey said.
Keya Sadeghipour, the dean of the College of Engineering, said signing the MOUs is the second step in partnering with these universities. The first step was determining each institution’s goals.
The university is already negotiating to bring medical and engineering students from the Nigerian universities to Temple, Bracey said. Medical students from these universities will be trained by the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in surgeries that are common in North Africa.
These students may be able to finish their degrees at the university, Sadeghipour said.
THE FUTURE OF THE PROJECT
By August 2018, the College of Engineering is expected to have a fully operational aquaponics system to send to the Kaduna delegation. This aquaponics system is designed to aid the Kaduna delegation’s efforts in the engineering of indoor growing systems, which will combat desertification in Nigeria, Bracey said.
“People are going to want to come here and understand how we engineered the systems,” Bracey added. “You can take that shipping container, once it’s outfitted, and pick it up and ship it somewhere else.”
Additionally, the university has submitted grant proposals to the National Science Foundation and the State Department for a program that would allow women from Northern Africa and countries in the Middle East to attend Temple and pursue STEM-related fields.
The university will be able to bring up to 30 women here to build infrastructure around food, energy and water, Bracey said.
The university has garnered support for these international programs from Pall Corporation, Cisco, Philadelphia City Council and Provost JoAnne Epps.
“We feel that engineers have no borders,” Sadeghipour said. “Our objective is what good we can do, whether that is [in North Philadelphia], or somewhere in Africa. There are so many similarities between the two, and if they can benefit from all this interaction, why not? And we would definitely benefit from their participation in our program.”