Global collaboration on food security

Tom Brumm (right) and Moses Kalyango work in one of the grain laboratories in Sukup Hall.

Undergraduate student from Uganda seeks to eradicate maize weevils in developing nations

Partnering with ISU ABE faculty and students, Moses Kalyango traveled 8,000 miles to explore solutions to a centuries-old problem: how can subsistence farmers get rid of maize weevils? For two months, he conducted research with Tom Brumm, Mary and Charles Sukup Global Professor in Food Security and associate director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods.

How did you become interested in agricultural and biosystems engineering?

Kalyango: “Back home, I could see grains and food being wasted. I wanted to be an agent in changing my community and country to see how we can preserve food through post-harvest techniques.”

How is the information that you are learning at Iowa State important to people back in Uganda?

Kalyango: “Uganda is an agricultural-based country. Almost 70% of our economy comes from agriculture. A large percentage of farmers are subsistence farmers. If we can stop the maize weevil from destroying the crop, we can help those farmers and help the entire country.”

Moses has been working with grain storage processes and ways to kill maize weevils. This includes developing a grain dryer that is low-cost and effective for subsistence farmers. Why is this research so important to a country like Uganda?

Brumm: “Even if Ugandan’s dry the grain properly before they put it in storage, they can lose up to 50% of the maize because of maize weevils. The weevils get in, lay their eggs, the pupae and larvae develop and they eat the maize from the inside out. In Iowa, our winter is pretty good at killing bugs. If we have a problem, we fumigate. For a small holder farmer in Uganda, neither of those are options. We’re trying to understand how quickly and under what conditions weevils use up oxygen.”

Researchers observe the effects of confinement on maize weevils. By shaking containers to dislodge the weevils from the maize, researchers are finding that the weevils are unable to lay their eggs. The weevils then use up the oxygen in the container and die.

You (Tom Brumm) have been traveling to Uganda every year for the past 10 years to lead the NGO ISU program in Uganda. Iowa State actually has a service-client program where students from Iowa State work with communities in Uganda. Why is a global experience crucial to students’ success?

Brumm: “When I was growing up and going to school, my thoughts weren’t global. I see the students today, like the students that we take to Uganda and students that come to Iowa State to learn … what fantastically motivated students we have!”

What aspect of Iowa surprised you (Moses Kalyango) most, or what will you remember the most about your time in Iowa?

Kalyango: “I used to read about Iowa. It is one of the greatest producers of corn in the world. I thought, ‘my gosh, maybe one day I’ll get to see that. One day, I’ll be in America and I’ll get to see those corn rows.’ The most surprising part of coming to Iowa was the machinery. I’d seen it in videos, but I’d never gotten to see these large implements in real-life. The combine was so big that it could take 20 rows at a time. And the big farms? Seeing the acres of corn was impressive. This experience is a wonderful, life-changing experience. It’s a global experience.”

 

Announcer
Welcome to Factor Analysis an in depth conversation of engineering knowledge from the classroom to the field, and topical issues surrounding work and life from an engineer’s viewpoint.

Kate Tindall
Welcome to another edition of Factor Analysis. I’m your host Kate Tindall and I’m joined today by two folks in ISU ABE, agricultural and biosystems engineering. Moses, and I’m going to have you say your first and last name for me so that I get it right. I feel like I might get that last name wrong.

Moses Kalyongo
Okay, my last name is Kalyongo.

Kate Tindall
Kalyongo. Okay, I was gonna try it. I should have just gone for it. I think. Moses, you’re a PhD student, correct?

Moses Kalyongo
No.

Kate Tindall
What are you working on?

Moses Kalyongo
I am an undergrad from Makerere University. So me as a short-term scholar. I’ve been here for two months for my internship. So I’ve basically been here as an internee, and studying and helping research graduate research students collect data from field and run a few experiments here in the lab.

Kate Tindall
And then on my left side is Tom Brumm, you are an associate professor?

Tom Brumm
Associate professor. I do have a title that I’m always supposed to mention. Whenever something academic comes up, I am the Mary and Charles Sukup Global Professor in Food Security

Kate Tindall
Very important that we get those special names titles in there.

Unknown Speaker
I was instructed when I received this honor that I have to use it all the time. So, and I am pretty grateful to the Sukups

Moses Kalyongo
So can I ask a quick question?

Tom Brumm
Oh, sure.

Moses Kalyongo
So after your retirement, do you have to transfer that back?

Tom Brumm
Give it back? When I retire I have to give it back.

Moses Kalyongo
Okay.

Kate Tindall
Now we have to go around addressing him like that forever, from here on out. So my first question is going to be for Moses. Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about your home.

Moses Kalyongo
So originally I come from Uganda. And I come from the central part of Uganda. The district’s a neighboring district to Kampala, which is the capital of the country. So I come from Mukono, which is a 70 miles over from Kampala. So, about my family, my parents are still alive, and I have 14 siblings.

Kate Tindall
Talk to me a little bit about how you became interested in agricultural and biosystems engineering. Specifically, we were talking before we started the podcast about grain storage.

Moses Kalyongo
Okay, so my whole interest in agricultural and biosystems engineering, cultivated and grew bigger after my ordinary diploma that I pursued in 2012 to 2014 in bioenergy, so after that, I applied to Makerere University and I applied without, I had two passions, I wanted to either go for petroleum engineering or agricultural engineering. I was looking for a scholarship or sponsorship, so I applied. Fortunately my first choice, agriculture engineering, is what they gave me. So, that’s how I got into it. And the whole idea came from back home in a way I could see like grains and food being wasted. And I wanted to be an agent in changing my community, in changing my country to see how we can preserve food through the post harvest handling techniques, and agricultural engineering, which is the major that houses everything to do with farming. Uganda is is an agriculture-based country. So almost 70% of our GDP comes from agriculture.

Kate Tindall
Now talk to me, Tom, switching to my other side. How did you first partner with Moses? How did you first find this partnership?

Tom Brumm
So Iowa State University has an NGO in Uganda called ISU Uganda Program, and we’ve been in Uganda for over 15 years now. And one of the aspects is we have a service learning program. So we take a team of students from Iowa State, we match them with a team of students from Makerere University, and we go out into one of the poor districts. The students teach in primary schools. They do projects at the school and then they help support the school garden, which facilitates school lunches. So two years ago, Moses was a service learner from Makerere University, and that’s how we met so there were at the time there were of the Makerere students. There were only two engineers so we linked up really quickly.

Kate Tindall
You found each other.

Tom Brumm
We found each other. And then last summer, or just a few months ago, he served as a student leader. For the service learners, someone who’s been there, done that, knew the ropes to guide all the students. And then at that time we actually he worked on a senior project. And I kind of helped with that and kind of provided some funds so he could build a small crop dryer.

Kate Tindall
And what is what is it for people that might not know what is a crop dryer, what does it do?

Tom Brumm
So, when you when you harvest maize or other crops, so we’ll just talk about maize, which we call corn. We’re the only ones that call it corn, the rest of the world calls it maize.

Kate Tindall
That’s okay, we’re the only ones that use pounds instead of the other.

Tom Brumm
Exactly. Exactly. Anyway, when maize is mature, it is wet and it has to be dried before it can go into storage, otherwise it will spoil. And so in Uganda the main way for small holder farmers to dry is to lay it out in the sun. And that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t work. So this is kind of a small scale crop dryer that you could do 1000 kilos, maybe

Moses Kalyongo
It’s 500.

Tom Brumm
500 kilos at a time with hot air and blow air through it, etc. So small, portable, hopefully affordable, crop dryer and you’re not dependent on the weather. You’re ensured that the crops going to dry properly, and then that gives you a good leg up on storing it safely.

Kate Tindall
Okay, so that was your first senior project. Now what are you doing with research?

Moses Kalyongo
My main project that I’ve done while I’m here, I partnered with a grad student and he’s called Jack. He was also service learner 2019. Actually, I was with him this last summer in Uganda, so when I came here we sat down and thought of the project that we could work on and Dr. Brumm advised us to look at a project where we can simulate an hermetic storage system and then measure usage of oxygen by the maize weevils.

Tom Brumm
So so let me back up. So, to give some background he talked about hermetic like a sealed container hermitic storage. So one of the problems even if you dry it properly and you put it in storage, it’s, you can lose up to 50% of the maize because of maize weevils. So they get in, lay their eggs, the pupae in the larvae develop and they eat the kernel from the inside out.

Kate Tindall
Oh, that’s like, it’s like the plague basically.

Tom Brumm
And here in Iowa, for example, we have winter that kills bugs. And if we have a problem, well, we fumigate, you know we use chemicals. Well, for small holder farmer in Uganda, neither of those are going to happen.

Kate Tindall
Okay? How because it never gets that cold, right?

Tom Brumm
And using those kind of fumigants and chemicals is very dangerous. You need to be licensed and trained and etc. So one of the methods for stopping loss of maize due to insects is to store the grain hermetically, put it in a sealed container. And insects use up all the oxygen and die, they suffocate. So the project that Moses and Jack Schwickerath were working on, was we’re trying to understand how quickly and under what conditions the weevils use of oxygen.

Kate Tindall
And why is that important just for how quickly we can kill them?

Tom Brumm
Yeah, so that we know how to design systems, how long to keep it in hermetic storage? Does it change with the temperature with the moisture content of the maize, with the infestation levels, etc. so that we can plan and design hermetic systems.

Kate Tindall
What I’m hearing is that we should all actually be really thankful for our cold weather in Iowa.

Tom Brumm
I like cold weather. I’m one of those weird people.

Kate Tindall
We’re all sitting here right now with like jackets and sweaters on. So just to give some context,

Tom Brumm
A little chilly today.

Kate Tindall
Just a smidge. Tom, I’m going to ask you this, because it sounds like you have years of experience working on a global level. Why is a global program so important?

Tom Brumm
Well, the world is a pretty small place anymore. And I think we have an obligation when, as professionals, as engineers, as human beings, to help each other. And so we have a lot of students here at Iowa State that are really interested in making a difference. And that’s a kind of that’s a real generational change. You know, and I see a sea change in the students that we have here at the university. When I was growing up and going to school, my thoughts weren’t global. But now I see the students here, you know, and I, the students that we take to Uganda, what awesomely motivated students we have that they, they come here and they want to make a difference in the world. So that’s changed quite a bit. And so our programs here at Iowa State have morphed to accommodate that and to facilitate that, because we as a university, that’s not only good for individual development, but then it extends our reach as a land grant university, beyond the borders of the state, beyond the borders of the country, to around the world.

Kate Tindall
I’m going to shift the question over here. So we talked about motivation a lot. Why are we working towards the things we’re doing right now? How do you, Moses, think that this experience is going to help you in the long run when it comes to your career, maybe going on to get more degrees, if that’s what you’re interested in?

Moses Kalyongo
So this experience is a wonderful, life-changing experience that no one can ever imagine. It is. It’s a global experience and the, in the first place, when you think about it, and you compare as tuition is back home in Africa, and a lot of challenges that affect Africa to do with food, especially with, with the research that I am working on, and regards to my major, it’s really, really an obligation that I have to fulfill. I’ve been taking classes in biorenewable systems and technology, and I’ve been studying about how microtoxins infect feeds that we give to animals, and animals after they are infected, we eat the meat and we transfer the infection to human beings. So this global experience my, my internship to, to Iowa State is really a changing platform for me and in my life and it’s really pushing me to, to continue in my career to pursue more education in with my major in now, speciality in post-harvest and handling engineering, and also believe this global experience makes someone a standout person and you’ll always be an open minded person who is able to compete favorably in the world. Yeah.

Kate Tindall
So basically you’re saying you stand out amongst the competition, basically.

Moses Kalyongo
I would think so.

Tom Brumm
I would hope so.

Kate Tindall
Well, that’s what we’re hoping for at ABE, right.

Tom Brumm
That’s why we, frankly, we bring over interns every year and we kind of cherry pick, right? We look at the service learners and the student leaders that come back again and say, you know, who are the good ones that we could bring over and give them this experience? And Moses was one of them.

Moses Kalyongo
We never know the criteria.

Tom Brumm
We won’t tell you we just flip a coin. (laughter)

Kate Tindall
That is not what we’re doing. What we’re doing, it’s a little bit more scientific,

Moses Kalyongo
Very scientific.

Kate Tindall
The last question that I’m gonna ask you, Moses, and this doesn’t really have a lot to maybe a little bit to do with your research, but not really, in my opinion. What was the biggest surprise coming to Iowa and just living here for, you were here for eight months is that…

Tom Brumm
No, two months.

Kate Tindall
Two months, two months, okay. Two months, a little bit less than eight.

Tom Brumm
Came in August, or when it was September, when it was warm. Now it’s a little less so.

Kate Tindall
You should say until winter. That’s where things really get healthy.

Tom Brumm
Weather says it might happen this weekend (laughter).

Kate Tindall
So what was the biggest, what was the biggest surprise to you? I guess that’s my question.

Moses Kalyongo
The biggest surprise to me, the farm machines, these are things that you’ve been studying and seeing in videos that we’ve never get a chance to, to interact with. And this is the way I go to the opportunity move into farms, big fairms. I mean, I couldn’t imagine ever like looking and seeing like, like acres of corn.

Kate Tindall
Because what does it, what does a farm like like in Uganda?

Moses Kalyongo
It’s a subsistence kind of. So farmers only basically grow food in small produce for consumption and the very few of like the medium-scale farms, which can range between five to 20 acres. But those are very few, so the majority, the subsistence farmers who basically grow food in one acre or less for food, bascically for food consumption.

Tom Brumm
And no mechanization.

Moses Kalyongo
No mechanization with biscuit to use hoes, hand hoes, I don’t know if you even know that.

Kate Tindall
Oh yeah, but we use them for gardening, not for 1000 acres.

Tom Brumm
But the hand hoes that Ugandans use, they make our hoes look like little toothpicks.

Kate Tindall
You have to have muscles for those.

Moses Kalyongo
This is a, this is an opportunity where I would to intellectual with things that have always been in my my my head activating my minds to pursue this career. I get to see the the modern high tech machinery that is used to harvest you corn and the combine was so big. It could take over 20 rows and you could just sit there and press the button and relax.

Kate Tindall
Especially in Central Iowa, where you have those nice flat fields that go on forever. I’m from northwest Iowa. That doesn’t always happen where I’m from.

Tom Brumm
You got a little up and down and around.

Kate Tindall
Little bit of hills. People say Iowa’s flat, but it’s not it’s not. So it was it was a different experience.

Moses Kalyongo
It was a fun experience because I used to read about Iowa and it is the leading producer of corn in the world. And I said, My God, maybe one day I’ll reach there. So I always dreamed of one day I’ll be in America and be able to see the cornfields. Yeah, would wish to extend my thanks to college of agriculture and life sciences study abroad program. I couldn’t imagine like the other day I cameand I saw. I’m the person on the advert poster that is known did the entries, say the Yeah, this is cool.

Tom Brumm
We have a poster advertising for next summer’s trip.

Moses Kalyongo
For next summer’s trip

Tom Brumm
And his picture was on it.

Moses Kalyongo
And then my picture is there. I’m famous. I’m global.

Tom Brumm
(laughter) that’s good.

Moses Kalyongo
So I take this opportunity to thank ag and biosystems engineering professors and the department Dr. Tom Brumm, Dr. Meyer, Sam, And several others, Dr. Karl Bern, graduate students, especially Mike, this is one individual that I’ve been working with every single day.

Yes, Mike Sserunjogi is also Ugandan, went through the same program with us, so thankful. So I’ve been working with Mike, going to their fields, collecting data and bringing that in their lab and then analyze the data and then in addition to the projects that that we explained earlier, so I’m really grateful. This is a life changing opportunity for me.

Tom Brumm
So Mike Sserunjogi.

Kate Tindall
Perfect way to sum up our conversation. I think it takes a team effort. It really really does. That’s it for this edition of Factor Analysis. Again, I’m your host Kate Tindall and I hope that you will hit subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much for talking with me today Moses, and thank you, Tom.

Tom Brumm
It’s my pleasure.

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Factor Analysis is produced by Iowa State University’s College of Engineering. For a list of ways to keep up with the college including more podcasts, social media and apps go to engineering.iastate.edu. Music by Lee Rosevere and use under Creative Commons license.