Nigerien Ph.D. student Laouali Amadou is on track to become the eighth entomologist in his home country. He recently spent six months doing a study abroad at Virginia Tech as part of a collaboration between the IPM Innovation Lab and the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab at Kansas State University to work on biological control of the pearl millet head miner. While in Virginia, he worked with the entomology department and took English classes. He returned home to Maradi, Niger in May to complete his studies and to spend time with his wife and two sons.
Q1: Where are you from? What is your educational background?
I am from Niger Republic in West Africa, from the city of Maradi in the south of Niger. I got my Bacherlor’s in Crop Protection from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. After that I came back to my country and did an internship at the National Agriculture Research Institute of Maradi and I was oriented to entomology work. Then I got a scholarship so I went to the University of Nyemi.
Q2: How did you decide to study entomology?
I decided to study entomology when I was in college studying for my degree. We had a long strike for six months so I came back to my country and I wasn’t doing anything. So I decided to go find an internship at the National Agriculture Research Institute and they oriented me to entomology. that internship in entomology I saw what people were doing with insects. And I decided I wanted to continue with entomology because when you meet with farmers, the concerns that they tell you about the most is “I have this damage from this insect.” Sometimes they will bring you a part of the plant to show you, “what’s this, please could you help me find a solution to this?” You would go for another purpose and the farmer would ask you about insects: insect, insect, insect. So I realized that the insects are playing a big role in terms of yield loss that’s why I decided to continue my career in entomology.
Q3: You are currently working on biological controls for the pearl millet head miner. What is so important about millet and this pest?
If millet yield isn’t good the government will shake, everything in the country will shake, because it means no food. So this pest is making a lot of damage, sometimes 90-100%. Most of the time it is after the farmer applied everything, and it is at maturity and ready to harvest, and the pest will come and destroy everything. We have a kind of indigenous parasites that we are rearing, but by itself it cannot control the pest because the population is low, so we must augment the numbers in the laboratory and then release it in the field when the millet starts flowering. So we did this field experiment and people realized that this kind of technology is effective against these pests. As we developed the technology, we kept on doing the same, for example we kept releasing 15 bug parasites to cover like 70,000 hectares. In one village if you place 15 bugs it will be enough to protect the millet. So in this case we have a grant under Kansas State University, under which we sent a proposal about the way to involve farmers, so that after the project the farmer will continue to have the parasite available to them. Then we have to see, the way that we’ve been doing this for a long time, is it still effective? Because the climate is changing. So that is why we have to optimize better technology. We have to come back to assess from the laboratory to the field level to see if what we were applying is still effective as we compare what is happening as the climate is changing.
Q4: How have you found Blacksburg and the United States in general? What has been good, weird, what do you like, what don’t you like?
I like 90%. What brings me here is to learn, experience, to improve my skills, my abilities. So when I came here I learned a lot. The first thing I learned is about time management. In Africa, people are not very serious about time, about appointments, about if you say you are going to receive this report they are delaying, they will tell you it’s the internet. But when I came here, the first thing that I realized is that I have to change my way of planning my time. Then the second experience I got is related to my English. When I came, if I was speaking to you, you would have kept saying, ‘please can you say it again?’ But now I realize people are not asking me to repeat what I am saying to them.
Then related to my work, I’ve learned a lot from the course that I am taking at the department of entomology where I took a class on insect behavior and ecology. We are working on biological control, on the interaction between the pests and the parasites. So when I took this class, I learned a lot about the functional behavior of insects, the interaction between the pest and the predator or parasitoid. I also took an online course, for method of scientific research. So in my country I will be the eighth entomologist. All of the entomologists in my country are agricultural entomologists. But here I met Dr. Scott Salom from the department of entomology, he is a forest entomologist, he was the one who hosted me, joined me in his team to work together, to learn about the system of biological control he’s making to protect the hemlock trees that are infested by insects. So by being with him and his team I learned a lot about forest entomology biological control.
Then I learned about American culture. People here have open minds. They are helpful, they are open, they are smiling. I also got a chance for open access to the library to read a lot, to have a bank of data, a bank of articles that will serve myself because I use these articles. If I was in my country, sometimes you see a good paper that you want to use or read, but you cannot have access to it. But now I have a lot of data that I will use for myself and my colleagues.
Q5: And how have you liked living in Blacksburg?
I appreciate the town because it is not really a big town. When I came at the beginning, what made me suffer was I came in winter. My country is tropical the temperature is very hot, so when I came it was the first time to experience snow. I really appreciate the color of the snow, the scene when snow is falling, but if I went outside I suffered. And I didn’t come with big jacket, so I had to purchase everything for winter. For hobbies I was in a conversation group. I took English classes with the Language and Culture Institute, so when I took this class they matched me with three students from Virginia Tech. One from China, one from Egypt, and one from America. And each week we met and have discussions, and play a game, like bowling or pool, and discussed American culture. I could see sometimes in my country we could tolerate something but here not, so if I have questions related to this, I keep asking about what is American, what is not American.
Q6: What will you do when you return to Niger?
I will continue working with my institute. Because even when the project finishes, I will still be working on this biological control because what I’m trying to do is to make a thing that will be sustainable to farmers. Through this project, we are able to establish the first private insect unit in the country. I will try to see how to push these farmers not only to rely all the time on projects or government. Maybe we can generate another micro-industry that can really help farmers with food availability and really help the consumers in terms of eating safe food.