Applied Animal Science Program
Why would a faculty member from the Thompson School want to spend a year in Namibia?
By Drew Conroy, Ph.D., Professor of Applied Animal Science
I spent all of 2008 in Namibia, Africa. I was teaching at the Polytechnic of Namibia, one of two universities in Namibia which offers students diplomas (like an associate’s degree) and bachelor degrees in Agriculture. The year was an amazing experience, in which I taught 2 courses, did field research on the effects of a recent drought on livestock, the effects on pastoralists of moving a veterinary disease control fence to the Angola border and the economics of draft animal power in the Caprivi region. I also helped the Agriculture department with a complete curriculum overhaul, and supervised students doing their 6 month Internships, which culminated in a formal presentation of their work and independent research. However, the most exciting thing I did was spend weekends with my family exploring this amazing country.
First of all, I was able to spend the year in Namibia because of the support of the Fulbright Scholar program. For years I had wanted to take my family to Africa. I wanted my two boys, ages 8 and 13, to experience a little of what I had between the summers of 1995 and 2002, when I was traveling back and forth to Africa working on educational programs and also my Ph.D. The Fulbright program is a competitive program that provided the financial means to make this possible.
Africa for me has been a place I was drawn to because of the importance of animal agriculture in feeding the fastest growing population on earth. New Hampshire has seen farm numbers dwindle and parents of students often tell their kids there is no future in agriculture. In contrast, Africa is one of many examples in the world where agriculture and especially livestock mean the difference between life and death. Given the desire of UNH to have students spend time abroad, my time in Africa has opened many doors, and I have seen opportunities for many UNH students in Namibia.
Most of my time in Namibia was spent working with 2nd year students, teaching a small ruminant course, focusing on goats and sheep and teaching a large ruminant course on cattle husbandry. The class size was about 35, and I got to know each and every student. The students were great, and showed me the greatest respect. I learned as much from them as they did from me. Most of the students spoke at least three different languages and some of them five languages. The cultural and ethnic diversity was amazing, and nothing like I experience at UNH. I visited many students at their farms, I ate with their families, and walked their pastures and rangelands. Most of the students considered it a treat to have their professor visit, and on more than one occasion slaughtered a goat for a feast in my honor. At the end of the second semester the students raised money and threw a party for me, where student after student spoke at length about how I had changed their life. They may never know how much they changed mine.
I went on many field trips with students, as I do at UNH. Some of the trips were to related industries like feed companies, slaughterhouses, and agricultural shows. At the agricultural shows we judged cattle, just off campus we learned about rangeland management, and we even visited a dairy farm as modern as any in the USA. Other trips were more extensive, where we were treated to multi-day educational programs in agricultural management. My first big trip with a group of students was to the Cheetah Conservation Fund where employees allowed us to get up close and personal with cheetahs, but also offered seminars on living with predators, and managing livestock in the often difficult conditions found in Namibia. We also visited a livestock and dairy farm, called Lovedale Farm where students spent 3 days learning about Boer goats, many breeds of sheep, wool and pelt marketing, as well as dairy and beef production in the desert. The students camped out, cooked over a fire, and tolerated conditions that even Eagle Scouts in the states would have shied from.
The research I did was with farmers, and allowed me to see parts of the country few tourists ever visit. I spent vacations doing research or camping with students in remote parts of the country. I experienced sand storms, floods, charging elephants, and spitting cobras. Looking back it seems like something from an Indiana Jones movie, which is only fitting, as students at UNH have often caught me whistling the tune from Indiana Jones.
As many students know I love taking photos and I have over 10,000 of them from my travels that year. I have explored issues related to forage crops, which students in the future will hear many and see many examples of. I rode horses with white rhinos and eland, got up close and personal with lions and cheetahs, and even bottle fed a baby giraffe. The photos I have of cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and farms will be integrated into many of my classes, bringing this part of the world to UNH.
Finally, I could not finish without saying my time traveling and camping with my family to places like the Skeleton Coast, the Okavango Swamp, Etosha National Park and the Namib Desert have opened the eyes of my children to how small the world really is, and at the same time how lucky we are to live in America. Many people in Namibia live far below the US poverty line. Many Americans could not imagine growing up in the environments my students in Namibia have. Yet, despite all their challenges, they are optimistic and view education as something that will truly make a great difference in their lives.
To View More photos of Drew's Namibia experience, click here