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Student from Niger learns pest control techniques to save key crop in home country

June 8, 2016

A man sits in a lab
Laouali Amadou worked in an entomology lab at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Amadou plans to take what he's learned and apply it to the pest problems in his home country.

In the West African country of Niger, only seven entomologists are employed. That number will grow to eight when Laouali Amadou, who spent six months at Virginia Tech, earns his Ph.D.

Amadou is completing his doctorate in entomology at the University of Maradi in southern Niger. He studied in Blacksburg as part of a grant from USAID, learning valuable lessons in pest management.

In Blacksburg, Amadou worked under Muni Muniappan, director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab. What drew Amadou to Virginia Tech was Muniappan's expertise in the natural means of preventing crop damage by pests such as the millet head miner, a moth that ravages crops in Niger.

Muniappan directs the Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech and also collaborates with Kansas State University scientists at the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab, where researchers are working to contain the pest.

In Niger, a food-insecure country, the millet head miner can cause up to 85 percent crop loss, threatening the nation’s most important food staple. The USAID project that funded Amadou's trip to the United States fights the miner using larval parasitoids, a biocontrol agent that attacks the pest while it is still in its undeveloped feeding stage. Scientists will also test egg parasitoids for biological control, encouraging a cottage industry in Niger to grow and sell the larval parasitoids.

Amadou says the pest's timing is devastating because it destroys crops on the eve of harvest. "If millet yield isn’t good, the government will shake, everything in the country will shake, because it means no food," he said.

Amadou said he learned much during his months at Virginia Tech. He took classes in the entomology department in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and English classes at the Language and Culture Institute.

As his English improved, he immersed himself in American culture, learned about time management, and took classes on insect behavior and statistics. He also joined field trips and spent hours in Newman Library.

"In my country, sometimes you see a good paper that you want to use or read, but you cannot have access to it," he said. "But now I have a lot of data that I will use for myself and my colleagues."

In Blacksburg during the 2015 fall semester, Amadou was first struck by the weather. Accustomed to a tropical clime, he suffered in the cold. But after he bought a big puffy jacket, he enjoyed the season. “I really appreciated the color of the snow, the scene when snow is falling," he said.  

He also joined an English conversation group, which provided company as he sampled different restaurants, and did other activities such as bowling.

While preparing to return to Niger, Amadou expressed excitement for two reasons: reuniting with his wife and two young sons and applying what he learned at Virginia Tech to fight the millet head miner problem.

Written by Stephanie Parker

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