College faculty facilitate collaborations with Cuban researchers

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A street in Havana, Cuba. Photo taken by CAHNR students on summer 2016 trip.

Five College faculty members traveled to Cuba last week for a networking event at the Institute of Animal Science (ICA) in furtherance of the Cuba Research Initiative. The three-day event consisted of presentations and discussions of agricultural and animal science issues with a focus on developing new projects and collaborations between researchers in the US and Cuba. Representatives from the National Center for Agricultural Health (CENSA), National Institute for Agricultural Sciences (INCA), Agrarian University of Havana (UNAH) and the ICA greeted the visiting faculty. The meetings provided an opportunity to formulate research partnerships that will benefit both nations.

UConn faculty members and students from the College previously visited Cuba over the summer to participate in an international conference. Prior to the summer conference, Assistant Professor Tania Huedo-Medina of the Department of Allied Health Sciences, had initiated and strengthened relationships with ICA, CENSA and UNAH through a workshop she taught on meta-analysis for the biometrics doctorate program at ICA.

The trip was sponsored by the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), the individual departments of visiting faculty members and Global Affairs and represents an ongoing effort to secure partnerships in the country.

Associate Professor Guillermo Risatti of the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science led the UConn team. Other faculty members include Professor Steven Zinn, head of the Department of Animal Science; Professor Hedley Freake of the Department of Nutritional Sciences; and Assistant Extension Professor Ana Legrand of the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture and UConn Extension. Professor John Volin, head of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, was to have gone but had to cancel his trip shortly before departure.

Aviana Rosen of the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy and the project coordinator for the Cuba Research Initiative, conceived by Huedo-Medina, accompanied the group as well.

While the College faculty drafted outlines for projects and grant proposals, Huedo-Medina led a UConn delegation, including Vice President for Global Affairs Daniel Weiner and Vice President for Research Jeff Seemann. They arrived in Cuba to sign memoranda of understanding with ICA, CENSA, INCA, UNAH and three other agreements on health-related research.

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Street vendors sell a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Cuba has long been engaged in sustainable agriculture and advanced livestock management practices due to the US embargo, forcing the country to develop self-reliant methods to feed its population. The people of Cuba engage in agroecological methods of farming, using small community and urban farms, frequently employing only biopesticides and biofertilizers. These organic farms use natural colors or odors from crops to repel pests. Their study of animal genetics and feed systems have led to the creation of hen breeds for eggs and meat and a sugarcane system to fatten pigs for consumption. Many of these agriculture and livestock advancements have been shared throughout Latin America, aiding countries that similarly struggle from a lack of resources.

While these efforts have proven effective, poor resources and food shortages continue to present challenges to the Cuban people. The research collaborations between UConn and Cuba will address these issues to improve quality of life for Cubans and ensure the country becomes a destination for visitors that can further stimulate the economy. The partnership is about a mutual exchange of ideas, with US researchers eager to learn from the successful systems Cuba has pioneered.

“A large part of the CAHNR mission is to ensure a sustainable global future through research, teaching and public engagement, utilizing agriculture, health and environmental sciences,” says Volin. “Thus we’re particularly well positioned to develop productive collaborations with faculty, scientists and students in Cuba. We are excited to have continued advancing the conversations on potential partnerships through this visit.”

By Jason M. Sheldon