Under the agreement, ARS will work with CONACyT and Mexican agricultural research institutions to identify opportunities for ARS and Mexican scientists to collaborate on projects of mutual interest and benefit to both countries.
"The United States and Mexico have a long-standing history of collaboration in agricultural science. The changing face of agriculture and bilateral trade between our two countries provides even stronger motivation for us to partner in identifying problem areas and to resolve them through joint research and the open exchange of information," said Edward B. Knipling, acting administrator for ARS.
Knipling signed the Memorandum of Understanding agreement here at ARS headquarters, along with Jaime Parada Avila, director general of CONACyT, Mexico's preeminent funding agency for research and higher education. Efrain Aceves, CONACyT's international relationships director, also attended the signing ceremony.
The signing culminated more than a year's worth of activities in which representatives from more than a dozen Mexican research organizations and universities, ARS, other USDA and federal agencies, and state universities participated in five workshops. Their purpose was to identify agricultural research projects in areas that would improve trade for both countries and protect the environment, especially natural resources within the U.S.-Mexico border area.
The workshops focused on five main areas: agriculture's impact on water and the environment; food safety; pest problems, including phytosanitary issues; animal health; and plant biotechnology and biosafety. Participants identified nearly 100 potential projects for cooperation, some of which have already started.
Project cooperators will draw on their existing research capabilities, as well as develop joint sources of support when needed. These projects will encompass a range of cooperative research interactions, including both applied and basic research, as well as short-to long-term efforts.
Part of this cooperation will include scientific exchanges enabling Mexican graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and scientists to visit ARS laboratories, where they will conduct research related to the five project areas.
One example is taking place at ARS' Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa. There, through a specific cooperative agreement with Mexico's Research Center for Food and Development and Drexel University, graduate student Francisco Javier Molina Corral is working with ARS chemical engineer Peggy Tomasula to characterize the chemical, textural, sensory and microbiological properties of Chihuahua and other prized Mexican cheeses, which are traditionally made with raw milk. Corral's aim is to improve the quality, safety, shelf life and marketability of the cheeses by using pasteurized milk and novel processing methods.
"We also envision having U.S. scientists travel to Mexico for short- and medium-term visits to advance research and cooperation as part of their specific project or scientific interest," said Arlyne Meyers, director of the ARS Office of International Research Programs (OIRP). She attended the signing ceremony along with OIRP colleagues Eileen Herrera and Carlos Rodriguez.