US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies Inaugurated at UC Davis
By Ras H. Siddiqui
An inauguration ceremony of the US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Agriculture and Food Security (CAS-AFS) was held on Wednesday October 28, 2015 at the University of California, Davis campus. A special follow-up dinner with key figures of the program (USAID, UC Davis, and University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan) was also held in downtown Sacramento at the Darna Mediterranean restaurant after the ceremony.
Attended by scholars, USAID officials, local media and several members of the Pakistani-American community in the region, these gatherings covered the academic cooperation and friendship between the two countries which has continued in spite of the headlines, since the quiet work of academics, bureaucrats, other well-meaning individuals and groups does not make it to the media front pages. Pakistan and the United States have had a close security arrangement since at least 1958 (some would suggest longer) and cooperation in the area of food security has been one of the cornerstones of this relationship.
The launching of a major multi-year agreement between the two countries with a budget to match earlier this year aims to boost academic cooperation between their universities and covers the creation of three Centers for Advanced Studies (plus one Satellite) in a cooperative effort between the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) and the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar partnering with Arizona State University to create two centers for energy research; the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology-Jamshoro and University of Utah partnering to create the center for water, and the University of Agriculture Faisalabad and the University of California at Davis partnering to create a center for agriculture and food security the launch of which is covered here.
The afternoon event at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Gladys Valley Hall was kicked off by Joanna Regulska, Vice Provost and Associate Chancellor of Global Affairs at UC Davis. Joanna welcomed everyone and provided some details about this project which is a $127 million dollar (total) investment in the future. She said that the US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Agriculture and Food Security (a cooperative effort between UC Davis and University of Agriculture Faisalabad) will focus on increasing the capacity of Pakistani agriculture. She especially thanked Professor Jim Hill for his role in making this happen and also asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Our host from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dean Michael Lairmore, next explained the vision and mission of the school. He was followed by UC Davis Provost Ralph J. Dexter who elaborated on environmental challenges and the truly international nature of the university. And an expected appearance by the Consul General of Pakistan in Los Angeles Hamid Asghar Khan did not happen as he was expected to speak here too but cancelled on short notice.
Alan Van Egmond, Senior Policy Advisor for Pakistan and Afghanistan USAID in his speech said that agriculture is the mainstay of the Pakistani economy and a significant part of its foreign exchange earnings is tied to it. He spoke of USAID efforts in helping the country in various ways. “This is a two- way street,” he said, as it benefits both countries in different ways. He also highlighted the efforts of the Pakistani-American community. Egmond also said that he was proud to be representing USAID in an official capacity. In a later discussion with this writer he expressed an interest in tasting some of Pakistan’s famous “Kinnow” tangerines during a future visit there, after I informed him that this fruit was delicious and a product of research at UC Riverside which was introduced into the Punjab area sometime during the 1940’s.
Ashfaq Ahmad Chattha, from the Center for Advanced Studies, University of Agriculture in Faisalabad (UAF), Pakistan during his speech started off by saying that he was missing the presence of Dr Iqrar A. Khan, Vice Chancellor, UAF here. He said that we are happy to be linked with the world’s top agricultural university (UC Davis) and that we want to learn about public-private partnerships, applied research and institute curriculum reform from this knowledge. He emphasized the importance of students and faculty from Pakistan training here in the United States and reminded everyone that during the 1950’s close to 50 people were trained in America which helped to start the “Green Revolution” in Pakistan. And now through this program 500 Pakistanis will come to the US in the next 5 years (just think of the possibilities).
In her speech Helene Dillard, Dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UC Davis said that her school was looking forward to working with both USAID and UAF. “Our expertise has been amplified by our partnerships,” she said. She also congratulated everyone on this new Center. And from private industry, Renee Lafitte from DuPont next added a different viewpoint. She said that rising global incomes are also increasing global food demand and the importance of dissemination of information to farmers has become important as has the need for more research to meet these demands.
Last but not least Marwa Zafarullah, an AIP student from Pakistan who is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree on a scholarship through this program, gave a passionate speech about where she came from and where she is today thanks to the encouragement and support that she received from her family, and especially her father and many others. Life is not about stopping. It is about following your dreams and ambitions, she said. Great job, young lady!
To conclude, the following individuals (the list unfortunately is not complete) need to be recognized for their contributions to making this effort possible: James E. Hill, Associated Dean (now Emeritus); the late Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef; Dr Bob Kerr and Dr Bill Lacy all from UC Davis; Dr Iqrar A. Khan, Vice Chancellor, Dr Bashir Ahmed, former Vice Chancellor and Dr Asif Ali Khan from the UAF; Dr Khalid Ejaz plus other officials from the Pakistan Consulate in Los Angeles and last but not least members of the Pakistani-American community in the region including Rashid Ahmad, Dr Muhammad Aslam, Dr Sajid Hussain, Dr Akhtar Khan, Kamran Malik and Bashir Chaudhry. A big “Thank You” is in order to all of them and to USAID for making this center a reality.