Sarah Geegan

By

College: Agriculture, Food and Environment

Professor Builds UK Connections, Helps Transform Agriculture in Burma

Published: Apr 10, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 10, 2013) The University of Kentucky has increased its ability to engage in smart, innovative agricultural development work in countries like Burma, through the return of Brent Rowell as the Extension Specialist in International and Sustainable Horticulture in the UK College of Agriculture.

 

Rowell began his career at UK as the state extension vegetable crops specialist in the College of Agriculture in 1994, becoming a full professor by 2005. 

 

Rowell was awarded a Fulbright in 2003 to develop work he had done previously in Thailand to help reduce pesticide use. During his time in Thailand, Rowell visited Burma to see what kind of agricultural work was being done there.

 

“Burma (also called Myanmar) is a fascinating place, the people are wonderful and easy to work with and there was a real need for help there,” said Rowell. “Once you are involved in that kind of development work abroad you always want to get back to it. I decided Burma is where I would like to work.”

 

Rowell left UK in 2006 to work for the social enterprise Proximity Designs where he helped transform Burma’s agriculture through an innovative drip-irrigation system (see a video about Rowell’s drip-irrigation system).

 

Rowell’s immediate goal in his new position at UK is to create a partnership between the UK College of Agriculture and Yezin Agricultural University (YAU) – the only agriculture university in Burma. YAU has the same number of agriculture students as UK, yet they only have 30 faculty, while UK has 285.

 

“Brent’s efforts in international programs and sustainability are going to bring a lot of attention to our department, and the university,” said UK Department of Horticulture Chair Robert Houtz. “He will be highly visible as the person developing new partnerships with Burma and landing USAID work.”

 

Rowell has a history of creating meaningful change.

 

“I originally came to UK in 1994 at the beginning of tobacco diversification and prior to the tobacco buyback,” Rowell said. “Tobacco growers didn’t believe there were any viable alternatives to tobacco, they thought things were going to be great forever.”

 

To help tobacco farmers transition to vegetable crops, which are a high value alternative, Rowell facilitated on-farm demonstrations of technologies such as drip-irrigation and disease-resistant vegetable varieties.

 

Rowell and Tim Woods, UK extension professor in agricultural economics, also helped the farmers market their produce through Kentucky’s first Marketing Development Board formed by the commissioner of agriculture. The board helped in the formation of several new marketing co-ops whose work convinced large grocers, such as Kroger and Wal-Mart to carry Kentucky produce. At the time there was very little Kentucky produce in any market.

 

“This had a long-term impact on Kentucky farmers, it gave them the skill and confidence to grow quality produce suitable for supermarkets; cooling, packing the whole works,” Rowell said.

 

Rowell’s experience creating change in Kentucky prepared him for his work in Burma.

 

“The big advantage of a drip irrigation system in Burma is relieving the backbreaking labor,” he said. “It is not uncommon for people to carry 6-10 tons a day. Plus plants grow better with drip irrigation; there is less disease, less soil compaction.”

 

Still, the farmers in Burma had never seen drip irrigation before, and were resistant to using it.

 

“Farmers would see it the first time, and say ‘that won't work, you're just dripping a little bit of water, you really need to pour it on, I'm not going to do that.’ It was not intuitive, so we did a tremendous amount of on-farm demonstration for the first couple of years,” Rowell said.

 

In the first year the demonstrations helped Rowell and his colleagues identify several problems with the system, which includes a tank, pump and drip irrigation.

 

“We knew there were problems with elevating our foot-powered pumps – they had to be above the tanks, which were also elevated to create pressure for drip-irrigation,” said Rowell. “The first tanks were old 55-gallon oil drums which were too small, difficult to transport and expensive. In subsequent years we developed collapsible 250-gallon tanks or 'water baskets' and easily elevated foot pumps, which made drip irrigation much easier and accelerated adoption.”

 

After redesigning the drip-irrigation sets, Rowell helped train more than 160 field staff to conduct on-farm demonstrations in their villages and communities across the country. The field staff worked in the villages around where they grew up, were paid a decent wage and were provided with motorbikes to increase their access to farmers.

 

Although the drip-irrigation sets were very inexpensive, the cost was still beyond many in Burma. To help farmer’s access this technology, Proximity began offering credit on a large scale in 2011.

 

“This really boosted sales of all our products; without it we wouldn't have done much,” said Rowell. “If you bring technology like that and try to sell it in a country like Burma, you just won’t get anywhere without offering credit.“

 

By Rowell’s last season, word-of-mouth had spread and there was no longer a need to conduct on-farm demonstrations. In his first year Rowell and his Burmese counterpart personally installed 10 systems; five years later, more than seven thousand have been installed across Burma.

 

“Rowell’s tremendous work has eased backbreaking labor for thousands, while increasing access to food,” says Gary Gaffield, assistant provost for international partnerships in the UK International Center. “This smart, sustainable, inexpensive and transformative technology is why government agencies like USAID are looking to partner with universities like the University of Kentucky.“

 

 

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan, (859) 257-5365; sarah.geegan@uky.edu

dsc_00834.jpgdrip_systems_installed.jpgimg_05882.jpg
August
 
 
 
 
 
1
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Fri
2
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Sat
3
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Artful Sunday: Wrapped Art
Sun
4
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Mon
5
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Tue
6
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Get Moving - A Walking Group for Caregivers
Wed
7
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Thu
8
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Fri
9
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Sat
10
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Sun
11
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Mon
12
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
UK Working Moms Connection
Tue
13
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Wed
14
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Thu
15
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Fri
16
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Sat
17
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection
Sun
18
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Mon
19
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Tue
20
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Chronic Disease Self-Management Program
Wed
21
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Thu
22
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Midnight Dodgeball Tournament
CARES First Year Focus Parent Meetings
CARES First Year Focus Parent Meetings
Parent and Families Reception
Residence Hall Floor Meeting
Off-campus Freshmen Check-in
K Team Meeting: K Week Kick-off
Death By Chocolate
Fri
23
Employee Educational Assistance Award
A Parent's Guide to Life after August 23
Campus Safety Information Session
Donut Avoid The Study
Common Cents: Money Management for College Students Session 1
See Blue...See Community
Succeeding in A Large Lecture Classroom
Horses, Bluegrass, Basketball, and More: Welcome to Kentucky
Success at Any Age: College Tips for Adult Learners
Write Right: Tips for Writing Well in College
Common Cents: Money Management for College Students Session 2
How to Graduate in Four Years
Parental Involvement in Fraternity and Sorority Life
Parents Watch for Warning Signs: Suicide Prevention for College Students
Preparing to be a Pre-Professional
Presentation U!: Where YOU are the Ultimate Presentation
Religious Life at UK
Successful Off-Campus Living
The Transfer Student Cruise: Navigating your way through UK
UK Parking & Transportation 101
You Heard It Here First: Tips From A Faculty Member
New Student Induction Ceremony
Minority Student Welcome
Transfer Student Cookout
K Team Meeting: K Week Overview
Men's Soccer vs. Georgia State
Big Blue U
Campus Ruckus
Campus Ruckus
Sat
24
Employee Educational Assistance Award
LNFS Presents: Jackass 3
LNFS Presents: Godzilla
Pedalpalooza
K Team Meeting: Lunch and Campus Tour
Center for Community Outreach: Do Good, Start Here.
UK Lex-Mart
Alternative Service Breaks: See the World, Change the World
From the Real World to the Amazing Race, Don't Wipeout: Your Advisor, Advising, and You
Blackboard Basics
Student Government Association Information Session
EMPOWER: Women’s Leadership Retreat Interest Session
Student Center Spectacular
Student Center Spectacular
Sun
25
Employee Educational Assistance Award
UK FUSION
UK Parking & Transportation 101
University of Kentucky Association for Transfer Students Interest Session
Candy, Condoms, Coffee
Cleaner, Healthier, Cheaper, Faster: Why Bicycling is the Best Way to Get Around Campus (and how to do it safely)
Working on Campus
K Team Meeting: Dinner with your K Team
Meijer Mania
Mon
26
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Last Day to Drop a Course with 100% Refund
Chem at UK Cafe-N-OJ with the Student American Chemical Society
Coffee (or Coke), Cookies, & Communication!: Come see blue. at Presentation U!
Don't Blow Yourself Up: Surviving Chemistry
Fraternity Recruitment Info Session
OMG! Did I Just E-Mail That to My Professor???
Surviving Your First Year and Beyond: Strategies To Do Well in Your Classes
Sustainable UK: Exploring Environmental Programs in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment (CAFE)
A User Guide for Your Mathematics Class
Discover the UK Art Museum
K Team Meeting: Common Reading Experience Discussion
Common Reading Introduction for International Students
Transfer Student Meet and Greet
We Are UK
Rec 'N Roll 2014
Big Blue Bingo Night
Mic Check
Tue
27
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Fraternity Recruitment Info Session
LNFS Presents: Jurassic Park
First Day of Classes
Open House - Special Collections Research Center
King Cookout
Campus Outreach
Opening Act: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Wed
28
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Internship Info Session
LNFS Presents: Her
LNFS Presents: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Student Involvement Fair
OrgSync Info session
LGBTQ* Welcome Back
Dive Into Diversity!
CATalyst's Dive Into Diversity Session
Residence Hall Floor Meetings
Thu
29
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Sea of Blue
One Last Beach Bash: RSA Block Party
LNFS Presents: Team America: World Police
Pills and Pizza
K Week Event: Pills and Pizza
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Wichita State
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Francis Marion
Fri
30
Employee Educational Assistance Award
LNFS Presents: Neighbors
The Tailgate "Kick-Off"
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Butler
Kentucky Football vs. UT-Martin
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Virginia Tech
Sat
31
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Ohio
Men's Soccer vs. Belmont
Sun
 
 
 
 
 
 
Aug 29
Sea of Blue 08/29/2014
Reset Page