WSU virologist to participate in agriculture initiative

PROSSER– Naidu Rayapati, a virologist at Washington State University’s Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, will help train Indian scientists as part of the U.S.-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative.

The AKI is a public-private partnership intended to facilitate technology transfer; bolster agricultural research, education and extension; and strengthen trade and regulatory capacity building. Both nations are providing funding.

WSU, as part of a proposal submitted by Penn State University, has received funding to improve the capacity of Indian counterparts for integrated pest management of insect-borne viral diseases in major vegetable crops grown in India.

Rayapati will train visiting Indian scientists in his lab on various aspects of plant virology and help organize a training course for capacity building in India.

Farmers in India grow a wide variety of vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, onions and other leafy vegetables, according to Rayapati, a native of southern India. Vegetable production generates employment for many rural poor, many of whom are women.

“Vegetable production plays a key role in food security and poverty reduction in rural India,” Rayapati said.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us to be involved in such a high visibility program,” Rayapati said. “One of the long-term objectives is to build stronger relationships between the Indian and U.S. scientific community and explore additional opportunities for research, technology exchange and capacity building.”

Rayapati joined the plant pathology faculty at WSU in 2004 to develop and conduct a comprehensive research, extension and teaching program on virus diseases of grapevines. He is using his extensive experience in international agriculture to build international collaborations to enhance his virology research at Prosser.

The scientist’s baptism in international agricultural research began with his postdoctoral research in virology at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi- Arid Tropics in India. He later worked for ICRISAT as a senior scientific staff member managing lab and field-based research on virus diseases of peanuts in Asia and Africa.

Rayapati also worked as a consulting virologist with the Crop Protection Program of the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom deploying sustainable virus disease management strategies to help subsistence farmers in Malawi and Uganda.

He currently has a U.S. Agency for International Development linkages grant from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to work on virus diseases of cassava in Nigeria. One graduate student from Nigeria is working on a doctorate in virology at WSU under Rayapati’s direction.

“The idea is capacity building in developing countries by preparing future agricultural scientists to be active in the new frontiers of virus research,” Rayapati said. “In this case, the grant from IITA provided a Nigerian student with an opportunity to come here, take classes in Pullman and get exposure in a wide variety of state-of-the-art technologies at WSU and do his research back home.”

Rayapati has another USAID grant to work on insect-transmitted virus diseases of vegetable crops in South and Southeast Asia to develop benign crop improvement strategies for small-scale vegetable farmers. He was recently invited to speak about thrips-borne tospovirus diseases at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan.

“I am trying my best to contribute to international agriculture and in the process bring visibility and recognition to our institution and true meaning to the slogan ‘World Class. Face to Face,'” Rayapati said.

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