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Consortium Kicks Off Tech Exchange in American Tropics

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
February 25, 2002

The first Henry A. Wallace Conference Series, cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), will convene today in Turrialba, Costa Rica, and continue through February 27. One hundred international scientists and policymakers from the public and private sectors will attend to discuss technical innovations for advancing agriculture in North, Central and South America.

CATIE plays an important role in education, training, extension and research activities in Latin America, according to Charles A. Onstad of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Onstad is scheduled to give welcoming remarks at the conference. Based in College Station, Texas, he is director of ARS' Southern Plains Area.

Nobel laureate Norman E. Borlaug, who favors biotechnology solutions to the world’s food shortages, is slated to give the keynote address. Other speakers include ARS national program leaders and directors from an international network of agricultural centers operated by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Key issues will center around value-added production and management practices for coffee farms. Coffee is an important crop to Latin American farmers and to U.S. consumers, the largest purchasers of coffee in the world. Coffee prices have been declining, however. So farming strategies to counteract the drop in prices will be explored--particularly diversification with compatible, profitable crops. For example, coffee can be grown on the same farm as high-value timber and tropical fruits.

CATIE cooperates with researchers at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Unit in Miami, Fla., the American Cocoa Research Institute, and M&M Mars, Inc., to initiate technical strategies for developing the cacao plant’s resistance to fungal diseases. Naturally, growers want varieties with disease-resistance, high-yield traits. Tropical agriculture’s cacao product is key to the U.S. chocolate industry.

CATIE maintains a large germplasm collection of coffee, cacao, tropical fruit and horticultural crop plants. In addition to collaborations with CATIE, ARS cooperates with research centers in Brazil, Trinidad and Ecuador.

A more detailed story of ARS cooperation with CATIE is in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine, on the World Wide Web at:

ARS is USDA’s chief scientific research agency.

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