Iowa State Capitol building with World Food Prize banners in Des Moines, Iowa

USDA Fellows


The USDA-FAS Borlaug Fellowship Program provides research opportunities for mid-career scientists from middle and low-income countries to advance food security and economic growth.

The USDA-FAS Scientific Exchanges Program promotes trade, trade policy, trade capacity building, and food security. The program aims to educate a new generation of agricultural scientists, increase scientific knowledge and collaborative research, and extend knowledge to users and intermediaries in the international agricultural marketplace.

With both programs, Fellows spend 3 months at NC State to conduct research with a faculty mentor and will often travel either to a professional conference or the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa.  The faculty mentors later conduct a reciprocal visit to the fellow’s institution to maintain the research collaboration.



Dr Johnson Ayodeji Olupona, Chief Lecturer, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology Ibadan, Nigeria- SEP Fellow

Dr Johnson Ayodeji Olupona is an Animal Scientist with interest in the optimal and sustainable use of natural resources for biodiversity conservation, and this involves identification and value addition to some of the underutilised resources in order to
improve public health and food safety. Presently, he is in North Carolina State University, Department of Food Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences collaborating with his mentor Dr. Fernanda Santos to develop alternative techniques to control food borne pathogens. During this period, he participated in many symposium and training in the area of food safety and data science. He obtained Bachelor of Agriculture, Master of Science and Ph.D in Animal Production from University of Ilorin, Nigeria and also attended international courses in Feed and Dairy production in the Netherlands. He has served as principal Investigator and facilitator in World Bank Assisted projects.

Dr. Oluwatoyin Funmilayo Isalar, Lecturer and Plant Pathologist, Department of Biological Sciences, Edwin Clark University, Kiagbodo, Nigeria – SEP Fellow

Oluwatoyin Funmilayo Isalar earned her PhD in Mycology and Plant Pathology at the University of Benin, Nigeria. She obtained her B.Sc in Plant Biotechnology and M.Sc  in Mycology and Plant Pathology (Distinction) both from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She has worked on the morphological and biochemical characterization of Macrophomina phaseolina from Arachis hypogaea L. seeds and effects of fungus on seed germinability during her Doctoral studies. She is currently an awardee of the United State Department of Agriculture Scientific Exchange Programme fellow in United States of America on a research visit to Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University, Raleigh where she is working with faculty mentor, Dr. Shuijin Hu, on mycorrhizal fungi which are beneficial fungi in soil and plant roots and the effect of these fungi on plant growth, carbon, nitrogen cycle and soil greenhouse gas emission. She has published 9 research papers and a chapter in a book in reputed journals. She is currently working as a lecturer at Edwin Clark University, Nigeria.

Dr Idongesit Umanah Mokwunye , IPM Expert, Chemical Ecologist, Entomology section, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria SEP Fellow

Idongesit is an Entomologist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria.  She is the Head of the Crop Protection Division of the institute.  She obtained a PhD in Entomology from the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria.  Dr. Idongesit  holds a BSc in Zoology and an MSc in Entomology from the University of Lagos and University of Ibadan respectively. Her research interests include integrated pest management, chemical ecology, extension entomology and economic entomology. She has worked on the population dynamics of the stem girdler as it correlates with weather parameters, damage potential, semiochemical interactions and chemical control of insect pests. She serves as resource person engaging stakeholders in outreach and training programs on good agricultural practices. Future research focus will be centered on developing pest forecast system for early detection, warning and management with the Center of Integrated Pest Management. Dr Idongesit is passionate about mentoring and volunteering.
Dr. Mavis Agyeiwaa Acheampong, Lecturer and Entomopathologist, Department of Crop Science, University of Ghana – Scientific Exchanges Fellow
Mavis received her BSc. in Agriculture (Crop Science) and MPhil. in Crop Science (Plant Pathology) from University of Ghana and a Ph.D. in Entomology (Entomopathology) from Rhodes University, South Africa.  Mavis is currently collaborating with her mentor, Dr. Aram Mikaelyan at NC State, to investigate chitin-based formulations of EPF, as control agents for wood-destroying, and other structural urban pests in USA. She periodically organises training workshops for farmers on diagnostics and management of insect pests and diseases of crops, and is a regular reviewer for Fungal Biology and Review Editor for Frontiers in Fungal Biology.

FALL 2022

Dr. Pablo Delgado-Sánchez, Research Professor, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Mexico – Borlaug Fellow

Dr. Pablo Delgado-Sánchez is a Titular Full-Time Research Professor since 2012.  He is the Coordinator of the Ph.D. program in Agricultural Sciences and Head of the Biotechnology Group in the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary at the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (México). Dr. Pablo Delgado-Sánchez has a Ph.D. in Applied Sciences in the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosi-IPICYT (México). He received the award AGROBIO 2012 Mexico for the best doctoral thesis in agricultural biotechnology research. He obtained a MSc. in Molecular Biology also from the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosí-IPICYT (México). He earned a B.Sc. in Agricultural Chemistry at the Faculty of Chemical Sciences at the Universidad Veracruzana (México). Dr. Delgado’s research focus is on plant molecular physiology under abiotic stress conditions such as drought, salinity, sun solar radiation, and the use of beneficial microorganisms for increased tolerance to abiotic stress and plant growth promotion.

Besides, he is a member of the National Researchers System of the National Council of Science and Technology-CONACYT (México).  In 2022, he was selected for the Borlaug Fellowship Program by USDA, for a stay at North Carolina State University at the group of Dr. Oliver Baars, professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. The project focuses on applying blue-red and/or visible LED lights on tomato and mustard plants to increase the synthesis of antioxidant compounds (carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids) under heavy metals treatments and uptake of micronutrients metal.  Our hypothesis is that a shift to blue light and low iron conditions is connected to increases in the uptake of heavy metals from contaminated soils. We will have physiological and metabolic data to address the hypothesis and make a strategy for implementation. The research is a basis for novel solutions to reduce heavy metal contamination of greenhouse-grown plants or increase the effectiveness of phytoremediation of heavy metal-contaminated soils.

Dr. Adriana Sánchez Espíndola, Professor and Researcher, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP), Mexico – Borlaug Fellow

Dr. Sanchez is currently responsible for the microbiology laboratory of the Tecamachalco campus, main lines of research: a) analytical evaluations of pesticides and other chemical compounds in water, soil, and food and b) detection of pathogenic organisms in water, soil, and food. As a teacher, she participates in teaching the subjects: of general microbiology, food microbiology, food biochemistry, food microbiology, and physicochemical analysis of food, soil, and water. As a mentor, she works with students who develop agroecological proposals (elaboration of biopesticides) and rescue ancestral foods. She currently participates as a member of the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) team giving training to farmers in Mexico. At NCSU, Dr. Sanchez works with her mentor, Dr. Katie Jennings in the detection and quantification of pesticides in addition to obtaining training in other areas related to food safety.

Sofiane Abdelhamid, Researcher, Olive Institute, Tunisia – Borlaug Fellow

The central focus of Sofiane Abdelhamid at the Olive Institute in Tunisia is to study the genetic diversity of cultivated olive (Olea europaea L.) by using morphological traits and molecular markers such as RAPD, ISSR, SSR and SNP. My long-term goal of my research is to improve the sustainability of the olive oil sector in Tunisia and to enhance the diversity of olive varieties to develop resilient cultivars in response to climate change. With my mentor Dr. Hamid Ashrafi, I have the possibility to generate genomic resources for olive breeding contributes to understand the genetic relationships among different cultivars of olive (both cultivated and wild), to study specific genes that can confer resilience and higher yield and to accelerate breeding program through comparative genomics with high agronomic traits. I have been involved in the planning of projects which allowed the development of olive oil value chain projects in Tunisia. I have the expert diploma in the organoleptic assessment of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I have produced many scientific papers and reports as part of my academic and professional activities. I supervise several students diploma and training.

Assel Yessimseitova, Research Scientist, National Center for Biotechnology, Kazakhstan – Borlaug Fellow

Assel is highly skilled in various methods of plant biotechnology, microbiology, and plant molecular biology. She has extensive experience in microclonal propagation o f woody plants. She is interested in developing new disease resistant and stress tolerant varieties and identifying plant germplasms using molecular markers.

Assel arrived at North Carolina State University in the summer of 2022 to work at Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center (MHCREC) under the supervision of Dr. Dilip Panthee. The main object of the fellowship was to identify new genes related to tomato disease resistance. During this fellowship, Assel collected and analyzed the phenotypic data of fruit quality and a few other horticultural traits, identified molecular markers associated with tomato diseases such as late blight and tomato spotted wilt virus resistance, interpreted the disease screening results, and learned QTL mapping using R/qtl2 and QTL Cartographer. Also, she attended the American Society for Horticultural Science Conference in Chicago, Illinois and participated in Tomato Field Day at MHCREC.

Prof. Dr. Kemal Melih TASKIN, Head of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Canakkale 18 Mart University, Canakkale, Turkiye – Borlaug Fellow

Dr. Kemal Melih TASKIN working on plant reproduction-development and biosynthetic pathways. He earned his BSc in Biology from Hacettepe University, Ankara. He studied on in vitro regeneration and transformation of sesame in his MSc thesis (Akdeniz University). He took his PhD lectures in Akdeniz University and completed his laboratory studies in the University of Bath (UK) through Chevening Scholarship program. Dr. TASKIN is working with natural apomicts plant species. Apomixis, an asexual mode of reproduction, results in embryo formation without fertilization of the egg. He investigated the morphogenic potential of various tissues to establish an efficient regeneration and genetic transformation system in natural apomicts. He is also interested in the effects of epigenetic modulators on the apomictic seed development. He is now collaborating with Dr. Vladimir Brukhin (St. Petersburg State University, Russia) to study the genetic and molecular mechanisms that control apomixis. Dr. TASKIN recently also working with Olive (Olea europaea L.)  widely cultivated important Mediterranean plant with high quality of oils and rich compounds. His works on Olive involve in both the biosynthesis of metabolic pathways including phytosterols, strigolactones, Vitamin E and root development. Dr. TASKIN arrived at NC State University at the beginning of July, 2022 to work with both Dr. Hamid Ashrafi and Dr. Kedong Da in their labs. The target of the fellowship was to determine the function of the genes involve in one of the components of apomixis through complementation analysis. While at NC State University, Dr. TASKIN learned the basic Linux terminal command system, NGS library preparation, bioinformatic analysis of NGS data and floral dipping transformation method. During the program, he attended to the Plant Biology Conference and had a chance to meet scientists in his area.


NC State Borlaug Fellow, Fatma Gül Maraş Vanlioğlu, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Field Crops Central research Institute, Biotechnology Research Center - Turkey, posing in front of her research symposium poster

Fatma Gül Maraş Vanlioğlu, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Field Crops Central research Institute, Biotechnology Research Center – Turkey – Borlaug Fellow

Fatma Gül arrived at NC State University at the beginning of 2020 to work with both Dr. Hamid Ashrafi and Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira in their labs. The target of the fellowship was to integrate the Genotyping-by-Sequencing (GBS) pipeline to the breeding process of Turkey. While at NC State University, Fatma Gül learned the basic Linux terminal command system, and then she investigated GBS library preparation, bioinformatic analysis of GBS data and SNP determination for specific quantitative traits. After GBS data analysis, she studied the KASP primer design for determined SNP regions of specific traits. During the program, she attended to the Plant and Animal Genome Conference and had a chance to meet the most important scientists in her area.

FALL 2019

Dr. María-Elena Cazar RamírezHead of the Biotechnology and Biodiversity NC State University Borlaug Fellow Dr. María-Elena Cazar Ramírez,  Head of the Biotechnology and Biodiversity Group, Universidad de Cuenca – EcuadorGroup, Universidad de Cuenca – Ecuador – Borlaug Fellow

María-Elena Cazar Ramírez is a chemist, with a main interest in bioactive secondary metabolites from plants and fungi. She earned a B.S in Chemistry from Escuela Superior Politécnica del Chimborazo (Ecuador) and a Ph.D in Natural Products Research in Universidad de Talca (Chile). María-Elena Cazar developed scientific stays at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern (Germany) and Leiden University (The Netherlands). At the Chemical Sciences Faculty from Universidad de Cuenca, she leads the Biotechnology and Biodiversity Group, creating a space for research focused in the bioactivity of plants and microorganisms from Southern Ecuador. In this group, cooperation and scientific exchange is a strategy towards the excellence in research. Besides, she is a faculty member of the University Council of Universidad de Cuenca and Vice President of the Latin American Society of Medicinal Plants.

María-Elena Cazar develops collaborations with Universität Osnabrück (Germany) and Universidad de Chile (Chile), among others. These strategies allowed the exchange of academics and students from the Chemical Sciences Faculty at Universidad de Cuenca and the networking institutions. On 2019, she was selected for the Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program. North Carolina State University is the venue for her fellowship. Currently, María-Elena Cazar works with Dr. De-Yu Xie, professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, in a project focused in the characterization of bioactive secondary metabolites from Ecuadorian cacao. The aim of this project is to increase the value of Ecuadorian cacao accessions by the characterization of polyphenols, and monitor polyphenols changes during artisanal cacao processing. María-Elena Cazar values this magnificent opportunity to work with Dr. De-Yu Xie, a renowned scientist in the field of natural products. This experience will be the first step in a fruitful scientific collaboration.


Borlaug Fellow Hamilton Chiango, Assistant Lecturer and Researcher, Universidade Eduardo Mondiane - Mozambique with his project in the NC State PhytotronHamilton Chiango, Assistant Lecturer and Researcher, Universidade Eduardo Mondiane – Mozambique – Borlaug Fellow

Hamilton arrived to NC State University in Spring 2019 to work with Dr. Tom Sinclair in Crop and Soil Science.  During his fellowship, Hamilton investigated phenotyping of maize inbred lines for expression of two water-conservation traits: sensitivity to soil drying and to atmospheric vapor pressure deficits. Through greenhouse experiments, Hamilton was able to phenotype at 25 of the major inbred lines used in Mozambique in response to soil drying and vapor pressure deficit treatments.

FALL 2018

Dr. Anne Njoroge, Research Associate, Crop and System Sciences Division, International Potato Center, Nairiobi – Kenya – Borlaug Fellow

NC State Borlaug Fellow Dr. Anne Njoroge, Research Associate, Crop and System Sciences Division, International Potato Center, Nairiobi - Kenya pipetting in the labAnne is a CGIAR Borlaug Fellow with Dr. Jean Ristaino as her NC State faculty mentor.  Anne is conducting research on Phytophera infestans population structure and pathogen evolution in eastern Africa.  Anne has has mapped the pathogen population in five eastern Africa countries as a basis for P. infestans surveillance in the region.  Additionally, she has generated pathogen data for the potato national breeding programs interested in a particular European potato variety as well as CIP’s potato biotechnology breeding group, that can be used for future deployment of the 3R transgenic potato for Africa. Anne is also a PhD student finalist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU-Uppsala) and defended her dissertation in Plant Pathology in January 2019.  


Dr. Ahlam Hamim, National Institute of Agriculture, Research of Tangier – Morocco –  Borlaug Fellow

Dr. Hamim came to NC State University in the spring of 2018 to Borlaug Fellow Dr. Ahlam Hamim, National Institute of Agriculture, Research of Tangier - Morocco presenting her research on "Small Fruit Berry Crops off-season Production"work with Dr. Hamid Ashrafi in his blueberry genetics and genomics lab.  The overall objectives of Dr. Hamim’s fellowship work was to aid in the development small fruit berry crops in Loukkos, Morocco.  While at NC State University, Dr. Hamim was able to investigate micropropagation techniques for blueberries and other small fruit berry crops, conduct field blueberry breeding research, assess small fruit berry varieties, and conduct quality tests.   In addition to Dr. Hamim’s research experience, she was able to interact one-on-one with North Carolina blueberry growers during the blueberry field day.