Librarian off to Tanzania for vital horticulture project
By Patty Mintz
For the past 27 years, Jerry Miner has worked as a research librarian for Canada’s oldest and largest agricultural library. Today Agriculture and Agri-food Canada scientists can can access 3,000 electronic journals and 5,000 electronic books right from their desktop though the Canadian Agricultural Library network.
Recently, a job posted in the International Society for Horticultural Science Newsletter caught Miner’s attention. A not-for-profit foundation called Global Horticulture Initiative (GHI) – a worldwide program involving a number of national and international institutions organized to collaborate in research, training, and technology -- was looking for a bilingual webmaster and communications officer to work at its base office in Arusha, Tanzania.
Considering 1.1 billion people live in extreme poverty (US $1 a day) and that poor horticulture practices are contributing factors, Miner viewed the project as “something worthwhile doing at this point in my career,” and was attracted by the organization’s primary purpose – to help people in poor countries to grow high value crops such as fruit, vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants needed to improve nutrition and family incomes. Because statistics show that since 2006, 50 per cent of the world’s population has lived in urban areas, the focus is on the urban and rural poor.
Adventure with a cause The Wolfville resident has traveled before, including to India, but nothing of this scope or duration. “It will be quite an adventure,” he says.
Miner said the posted position called for a four-year contract, “but because of the nature of my situation, I applied and said I wanted a one-year contract only. Not long after I received a message from GHI that they would like to have me.”
The organization wanted Miner to begin the actual work in November, “but that was impossible because of all the paperwork and (over $2,000 worth of) vaccinations that were necessary. I said unless I can start in January, I can’t do it,” he says.
Miner now works for GHI, but there are other organizations involved in the alliance, including CGIAR – the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research -- which alone has over 8,000 scientists and technical staff working all over the world, and a similar organization, the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre, or AVRDC.
As it develops, www.globalhort.org will have unique capabilities. “We’re trying to create a portal or hub; to have all the information in one place so people working in the area of horticulture can have access to quality and up-to-date info.”
Horticultural crop production, notes the website, is an engine for economic growth, creating jobs, supporting agri-businesses and generating income to a greater degree than any other agricultural crop. While generating new economic opportunities, horticulture can diversify cropping systems, reduce pesticide misuse, and conserve soil and water.
Miner has already done some preliminary traveling for the project, including to the annual general meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research in Bejing; a board meeting of GHI in Hong Kong; and to meet with headquarter staff of AVRDC in Taiwan to sign his contract.
Work begins for him in earnest Jan. 8 at AVRDC’s second largest research centre, in Arusha near Mt. Kilimanjaro. He will live in a simple yet comfortable safari encampment about 15 minutes from the centre. His responsibilities will at times involve travels in Africa and Europe. At some point during the year, Idella Miner, a librarian at Evangeline Middle School in New Minas, will meet with her husband in Europe.
Miner is excited to take part in helping to move agriculture in Third World countries away from its dependence on agronomic crops such as cereals and rice – foods that make bellies feel full but are low in nutrition – toward fruits and vegetables that are richer in vitamins and other nutrients. “People want to be fed, to feel full, but they don’t know their nutrition has been compromised. It affects children and their ability to learn and HIV is more prevalent in people with poor nutrition,” he says.
As well, because crops are traditionally grown by female family members, switching to higher value crops would be empowering to women.
Research undertaken in the area of Africa where Miner will be working suggests a connection between consuming eggplant leaves and increased lactation. “That’s the type of intelligence we want to get out to people. We want our GHI website to be regarded as the first place to look for up-to-date and relevant information on horticulture for poor parts of the world such as Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Madagascar and Africa.” The latest in web technology is employed in the GHI website including news aggregation using RSS feeds and Google is being used to locate data in the partners' websites.
Miner’s contract runs to Dec. 19, 2008, “with an option to have the contract renewed if I decide that’s what I want to do.”
The father of three – the youngest of whom is 18 – says, depending on how things go, he may even decide to retire from his job in Kentville and start another career connected to this effort. In his absence, Kentville library services will be provided by Miner’s counterpart, Barry Stanfield, in Charlottetown.
Miner, who left Canada on Friday, said in an interview prior to the holidays, “One thing I hope at the end of the year is that the Canadian International Development Agency will realize that this is an undertaking that they should sponsor fully, since they have not yet signed onto this project.”