For love of a country

Dawelbeit visiting farms in Gadaref State, Sudan

To Iowa State alumnus Mamoun Dawlebeit (MSAgE’80; PhDAgE’83), agricultural engineering is more than a career—it’s a way to improve the livelihood of his people. Native to Sudan, he is well aware of the challenges his country will face, like competition over land use, deforestation, and other impacts of climate change that will affect the economy. His mission to overcome those challenges led him to Iowa State years ago with a plan to bring new knowledge and perspective to Sudan.

“I also knew a shortage of labor was expected in Sudan in the future, but I still felt the country had great potential in agriculture and agricultural engineering,” explains Dawelbeit. “So I said to myself, I must be useful to my country and help it thrive by creating technology to help bridge the gap.”

Dawelbeit completed his bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Khartoum in 1973, winning the prize for best graduating student in Agricultural Engineering. He then began working as an assistant agricultural engineer at the New Halfa Agricultural Corporation before taking a position as an assistant research scientist and workshop agricultural engineer at the Agricultural Research Corporation(ARC). It was there that Dawelbeit was given the opportunity to further his education through a graduate studies scholarship.

Unsure of the where to pursue an advanced degree, he contacted a former teacher and Iowa State graduate, who convinced him Iowa State would be the best school for his ambitions. Dawelbeit and his wife moved to Ames in the summer of 1977.

Throughout his six years of demanding schoolwork at Iowa State, Dawalbeit set aside time to engage in extracurricular activities, especially student organizations. He was an active member in Gamma Sigma Delta, an agricultural honor society, as well as chairman of Alpha Epsilon, the agricultural engineering honor society, and the Muslim Students Association, both in 1980.

Dawelbeit also managed to travel to all 50 states for conferences, presentations, and other professional activities.

Among all the experiences he embraced, he says weekend visits to farms around Iowa with his wife were the most memorable.

Dawelbeit with wife, Nagat Said, participating in International Day at an Iowa elementary school in 1979.

“These trips offered the opportunity to learn more about what American farmers were doing, what technologies they were using, and how they developed the U.S. into such a great country,” he adds.

When he finished his PhD, Dawelbeit returned to the ARC in Sudan, bringing with him not only the technical skills, but also the values he gained from Iowa State: to commit one’s self to a strict work ethic and support the world’s future through high-caliber research, education, and technology.

“I had huge potential I never even understood until I attended Iowa State. The hard work and challenges gave me confidence and knowledge—it was a gift that allowed me to be useful to my country,” he says.

Immediately looking at ways to improve Sudan’s agricultural industry, Dawalbeit created several technological advancements for local farmers, including a rake attachment for a cotton stalk cutter, a vibratory groundnut digger, and a hand planter with a fertilizer applicator for growing sorghum.

In 1989, six years after returning to Sudan, Dawelbeit was chosen as a Fulbright Scholar and returned to the U.S. for a year to conduct research at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. After his Fulbright Scholarship ended, he picked up where he left off at the ARC, continuing to do research and advance Sudanese agricultural technology. He also did a lot of travelling participating in national, regional, and international scientific activities.

Twelve years later, Dawalbeit started a new career, diving into governmental work and making a name for himself as an innovator in farming practices.

Within the Sudanese government, Dawelbeit has worked as director general of the Technology Transfer Circle and chairman of the Inter-relations and Technology Transfer Sector, both within the Ministry of Science and Technology, as well as general manager of Nobles for Modern Systems. Most recently, he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Forests in Gadaref State, Sudan.

Dawelbeit with fellow graduate students in 1981.

“The newly elected governor is very ambitious to do something new with Gadaref, and he is an advocate for change through new technology and advances in the agricultural industry,” says Dawelbeit. “When searching for someone to help him implement his vision, he thought of me and asked me to join with him.”

Much like Iowa, Garadef is a leader in agriculture, cultivating about 3 million acres of land a year and leading production of crops like sorghum, sunflowers, and cotton.

“In Gadaref, 95 percent of the income comes from agriculture, so we are challenged with creating an economically viable agriculture industry that is also environmentally sustainable,” he explains. “In this position, I will be giving my people the tools, support, and environment they need to improve agriculture and livelihoods for a prosperous future with dignity and pride.”

From a young student committed to education and making a difference to a well-known agricultural expert within the Sudanese government, one thing is clear: Dawelbeit’s calling has been, and will always be, helping his people.

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