Dr. Govind Kannan, dean of Fort Valley State University's College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, (center) meets with Leslia Lee, farmer Dr. Nirmal Joshee, FVSU associate professor of plant biotechnology (right) and Dr. Bharat Singh, director of the Office of International Agriculture and Development Aug. 2 to discuss an upcoming research project that aims improve food security in Belize.
Nuts growing from trees in the tropical climate of Central America may soon leave the Caribbean breeze on a journey to Fort Valley State University’s research labs for a unique study. FVSU’s research scientists will analyze the nuts in a project that aims to increase food security and assist with economic development in Belize.
Dr. Nirmal Joshee, FVSU associate professor of plant biotechnology and Dr. Bharat Singh, director of the FVSU Office of International Agriculture and Development are collaborating with Leslia Lee, a North Carolina farmer who works for a prospective non-government organization in Belize on the Maya Nut Project.
The Maya Nut Project is a study of the Maya Nut Tree, a potentially threatened tree species found in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Thus far, the plant is used as a food source among natives and as fodder for animals just to name a few.
Lee said she believes there are more uses for the plant. Through this project, she wants to investigate the nutritional and medicinal properties of the tree, determine the endangered status of the tree and develop conservation plans.
“The main reason I got involved in this is to bring economic development for the women farmers down there,” Lee said. Lee said she reached out to FVSU for its research capabilities and experts in plant science. “Belize doesn’t have the labs to correctly do a DNA test to determine what we have or don’t have,” Lee said.
She said if the tree holds additional properties, products could be developed which can help to increase economic stability by introducing new products into the market. It could also provide an additional food source for the natives.
At this time, preliminary studies on the nutritional qualities of Maya Nut have been conducted, but more detailed experiments on conservation and sustainability are needed.
“If Maya Nut is very nutritious, it could supply proper nutrition to many people in Belize. Though Belize has a very good climate and fertile soil, people are suffering from malnourishment. This could fill in the gap. The only thing needed is a technical know-how in terms of how to conserve, how to multiply and how to get into production,” Joshee said.
In addition, Singh who also serves as professor of sustainable agriculture and agronomy said he can foresee long term relationships with Belize government, industrial partners, universities and non-governmental organizations. “This could lead to endless opportunities,” Singh said.
Dr. Govind Kannan, dean of FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, said even though this project is in its planning stage, it is an excellent fit for the university.
“As an 1890 land-grant university, FVSU is designated by Congress to provide research based technical assistance to farmers. It also connects with FVSU’s President, Dr. Ivelaw Griffith’s globalization concept and with FVSU’s Office of International Agriculture and Development (OIAD). OIAD streamlines all international projects, expands existing collaborations and establishes new partnerships through securing external grants,” Kannan said.