Through his joint appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Njala University at Sierra Leone, Dr. Richard Cooke has taken on the advising of two Njala PhD students and is currently on the committee of a third student. There is significant overlap in his research at UIUC on working to improve crop yields with that of his students at Sierra Leone. Crop yield, a measurement of the amount of a crop that was harvested per land unit area, is extremely important in agriculture because increasing crop yields can increase food availability and allow for growth.
The group is working on improving crop yields, specifically during the rainy season. There is typically one crop harvested in the rainy season at Sierra Leone, and they are looking at ways to grow second and third crops. One method that one of his PhD students has used to improve yield is by storing water with microdams and using this water for irrigation. This method, along with other interventions, including water management and harvesting rainfall, resulted in a 400% increase in crop yield.
Dr. Cooke’s third student is taking another innovative approach. Along with the guidance of his adviser at Njala, this student is designing methods to extend the cropping season in low-line areas. Excitingly, Dr. Cooke is planning on traveling to Sierra Leone in March of 2017 to continue to support these students in their work.
The Ebola outbreak in 2015 imposed a challenge to the UIUC-Njala University partnership, and hindered progress on these and other projects. Importantly, however, the mentorship between Dr. Cooke and his students has proceeded and continues to grow. We are looking forward to witnessing the progress of these students on their agricultural projects.