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Agro-biotechnology outreach program using SACUC model

Mohammad Jalaluddin1, Manoharan Muthusamy2 and Shahidul Islam3

1 University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Email
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Email
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Email


The Southern Agro-biotechnology Consortium for Underserved Communities (SACUC) involved 11 historically black land-grant institutions conducting outreach activities on agricultural biotechnology. The target populations were low-income rural communities in 10 states of the southern United States. The outreach activities were planned and executed following a structural model, henceforth called SACUC model. The overall tasks were implemented in four program areas: 1) Educational outreach, 2) Commodity outreach, 3) Community outreach, and 4) Socio-economic studies. Training sessions, workshops and seminars, on-farm demonstration and Field days, printed publications, as well as TV and radio broadcasts were used in reaching a wide spectrum of general public. About half a million people were reached by the continuous airing of the radio and TV broadcast. Active participation by the high school teachers, students, and extension personnel, and enthusiastic interactions among community leaders throughout the program indicated substantial success of the model. The SACUC model was an effective tool for agro-biotech outreach for agricultural communities; however, success in changing consumers’ perceptions about food safety and human health will be more visible after completion of analyses of the socio-economic data.

Media summary

The outreach model used by SACUC was effective in enhancing awareness and interests among the target populations about risks and benefits of the genetically modified crops.

Key Words

Genetically modified, GM, DNA, bio-pesticide, food-safety


Agricultural biotechnology is the foremost innovation for a better world in the 21st century and beyond. Genetic modifications in crops using DNA techniques have opened up a new horizon for agricultural development. Within a pace of less than three decades, genetic engineering has provided more than 500 genetically modified (GM) crops/varieties covering over 70 million acres in the US alone (Arends-Kuenning and Makundi, 2000; NAS, 2000). Some of these varieties can withstand pests that are resistant to available pesticides, some can resist pests against which there are no pesticides available, while some others can provide medicines in foods (Borchelt, 2002). This new and rapid development in agricultural biotechnology has, as expected, raised questions concerning food safety and environmental quality such as possible high dose of bio-pesticides in GM crops or migration of altered genes in non-crop plants (Fischer, 1998; Isserman, 2001). The ownership and equity of these technologies are being addressed to some extent recently, but it still remains a debated issue.

Genuine public concerns coupled with negative activism against biotechnology have caused a drawback in the adoption of GM crops, particularly by the risk-prone small farmers. Therefore, popularizing biotechnology among the growers and consumers, particularly in low-income groups, has become incumbent upon the land-grant institutions. With this in view, the United States Department of Agriculture – Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education Service (USDA-CSREES) invested funds for effective training and education in agricultural biotechnology, especially in the underserved communities.

Southern Agro-Biotech Consortium for Underserved Communities (SACUC) consisting of 11 historically black 1890 land-grant institutions, including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), in 10 states of the southern US was awarded with a four million dollar grant through the USDA-CSREES’ Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS) program. SACUC has conducted a holistic outreach program to reach a wide spectrum of the rural populace for three years from 2000 through 2003. The SACUC model of agro-biotech outreach activities, as implemented by UAPB, will be presented in this paper.


Ten states in the southern US were involved in this consortium project. The overall activities included 1) Educational Outreach, 2) Commodity Outreach, 3) Community Outreach, and 4) Socio-economic Studies as shown in the task integration diagram (Figure 1). Five counties that are normally served by each member institution were the target areas for the outreach activities (Figure 2). Individual institutions prepared projects based on their capabilities and interests, and funds were allocated accordingly. The campus coordinator was responsible to keep the model functioning throughout the life of the project. An advisory committee consisting of three expert members from outside the consortium provided the planning and evaluation guidelines.

Educational outreach

Educational outreach program consisted of training and curriculum development at high school and undergraduate college levels plus Website development for biotechnology education. Partnerships between UAPB and selected high schools in the five target counties were established to provide summer internships, mobile laboratory kits for on-site training for the students at high schools, and workshop and short-term training for teachers. These activities were coordinated by an educational outreach committee.

Commodity outreach

Under this program, selected GM crops were field-tested on research farms and their advantages and benefits were demonstrated through on-farm trials. Students and teachers participating in the summer internship and short training were involved in the on station trials and on-farm field visits. Results of the field trials and demonstrations were shared with other consortium members through annual conference and evaluation. Assessment of risks and benefits was also part of this program. The unavoidable disadvantages of the GM products were discussed during the Field Days. The growers and consumers had a chance to realize that benefits generally outweigh the negativity of the new biotech products.

Socio-economic studies

The functions of this program were planned and executed by a specific committee in conjunction with the member institutions. The major tasks of this committee were to determine factors affecting adoption of GM varieties, consumer responses, bioethics and risk assessment, market evaluation, and economic impact. Member institutions having expertise in socio-economic and marketing research in agriculture were assigned with the socio-economic studies.

Community outreach

The tasks of the community outreach program were to provide education to the growers, consumers, extension personnel and other community leaders involved in the five selected counties. These community members were reached through group meetings, newspaper articles, radio and television broadcasts, and Field Days. The educational and commodity programs were linked by the community outreach program, particularly through the Field Days organized at the on-farm demonstration sites in addition to the seminars and symposia conducted for the community audience.

Figure 1. Task integration in the SACUC structural model

*Average per capita income (in bold) per county service area of the consortium as compared to the average per capita income of the state.

Figure 2. State and selected counties in SACUC project area in the southern USA


Educational outreach

Partnerships were established with seven high schools from five counties, and eight high school teachers participated in agro-biotech workshop on UAPB campus. Thirteen high school seniors participated in a one-day workshop on recombinant DNA techniques and genetic transformation. In addition, a day-long workshop was conducted where 14 students, two from each of seven high schools, together with their science teachers participated as future partners of UAPB.

Commodity outreach

In three years, six field trials and 10 demonstrations were conducted. GM sweet corn, zucchini squash, and straight-neck yellow squash varieties were tested and demonstrated. Field Days were conducted at demonstration sites. Growers, extension personnel, community leaders, and high school teachers participated.

Socio-economic studies

Universities such as Tuskegee and Alabama A&M, who have experts available, were conducting the studies. SACU completed a major survey of consumer attitudes and biotechnology. Over 3000 surveys including growers and consumers were completed in 55 counties in 10 states. In relation to food safety and nutrition, majority of the respondents favored mandatory labeling of GM products.

Community outreach

Local community leaders, high school teachers, extension agents, and farmers were invited in symposia, workshops, and Field Days. Ways and means used in reaching the community and general public are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Ways and means used in reaching the communities in Arkansas with Ag-biotechnology 2003.

Type of event/ effort


Date of event

Audience reached

Group meetings and Commodity Demonstration

Field visit and discussion forum

July 3, August 14 and September 19-25, 2003

Community leaders, farmers, extension agents, school teachers


Lecture, poster viewing, video show and lab. exercises

July 2 and October 28, 2003

High school teachers and students

Rural Life Conference

Poster presentation; personal and group contact

February 14, 2003

Community leaders, students, farmers, extension agents, and consumers

Publications: A featured article and an abstract published

Article published in Pine Bluff Commercial and abstract published in Rural Life Conference proceedings.

February 14 and August 9, 2003

General public, especially growers and consumers

Mass Communication

KUAP radio interview and broadcasting, UAPB -TV interview and broadcasting

Twenty broadcasts since July 2003 and continuing in 2004

General public. More than half a million people were reached by radio and television.


1. Increased interests in agro-biotechnology among high school teachers, extension personnel, and community leaders was apparent from their active participation in meetings, workshops, and Field Days. Some high schools are incorporating biotech topics in their agric-education curricula.

2. Group meetings and symposia involving community leaders and extension agents were effective in minimizing negative perception of biotechnology. The participants were able to neutralize some of the negative opinions through logical arguments and positive reasoning.

3. Partnerships between UAPB and high schools were successful in student recruitment in biotechnology. Some high school students showed interests in doing their science projects in the biotech laboratory this year.

4. SACUC model for agro-biotech outreach was effective in enhancing public awareness. More people are asking questions about GM crops during and after the meetings. Some farmers in the target counties are asking for seeds of virus resistant squashes and insect resistant sweet corn.


Arends-Kuenning M and Makundi F (2000). Agricultural biotechnology for developing countries. American Behavioral Scientist 44, 318-349.

Borchelt RE (2002). Applying agriculture to medicine: therapeutics and treatment. Integrating Agriculture, Medicine and Food for Future Health, pp. 11-12. National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Ithaca, New York 14853.

Fischer JR (1998). NABC 10: An overview. National Agricultural Biotechnology council, Ithaca, New York 14853.

Isserman AM (2001). Genetically modified foods: understanding the social dilemma. American Behavioral Scientist 44, 1225-1132.

NAS (2000). Genetically modified pest-protected plants. National Academy of Science, National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

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