While Olufemi Alabi, Ph.D., is known for his dedication to plant science, he has been recognized for another passion of his — volunteerism.
The American Phytopathological Society, APS, recently bestowed Alabi, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, its Outstanding Volunteer Award.
In the award, Alabi was cited “for excellence in furthering the mission of APS” through his volunteer efforts. He was also cited for his role and effort in making APS a more diverse and global society, including “his visionary leadership and outstanding contribution” to the historic formation of the African Division of APS.
“Others and I began the work of developing an African Division for APS in 2016,” Alabi said. “The idea behind starting this division was to establish a forum for plant scientists working on projects affiliated with Africa to discuss issues and exchange information on plant pathology.”
Alabi, who is a faculty member of the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said issues with plant disease are pervasive in crops throughout Africa.
“We knew that whatever can be done to curb plant disease and limit the spread of plant pathogens in a remote part of the world can potentially have a huge impact in other parts of the world,” he said. “We wanted to develop a way for plant scientists and researchers to network and collaborate and share information that could lead to improved crops and global food security.”
He said the inaugural meeting of the African Division was held virtually on Aug. 18 and drew in 185 participants from 29 countries, primarily African countries.
“This was a tremendous response, and we will continue to amplify our efforts and engage even more people in the conversation,” Alabi said.
More about the African Division
The African Division of APS represents the society and the science of plant pathology in Africa. It is the regional representation of the APS and eligible members are those who live in Africa or represent projects affiliated with Africa.
The African Division helps student members attend its annual meeting and recognizes early-career scientists for their contribution to discovery, learning and engagement in plant pathology. It also honors members who demonstrate exemplary commitment, leadership and service to plant pathology and the African Division.
Alabi earned his bachelor’s degree in plant science at Obafemi Awolowo University and master’s degree in crop protection and environmental biology at the University of Ibadan, both universities in Nigeria. He joined the graduate program in plant pathology at Washington State University, where he earned his doctoral degree in 2009.
“My Ph.D. research focused on the epidemiology, molecular detection and genetic diversity of selected viruses infecting cassava and wine grapes,” he said. “Here at the Texas A&M AgriLife center, this applied research and our AgriLife Extension plant pathology program address economically important diseases of fruit and vegetable crops in South Texas.”
He said his work is done through translational research into disease causation, evaluation of disease control measures and outreach to growers, industry stakeholders and the public.
“The overarching goal is to utilize the results of these studies to develop science-based disease management strategies,” he said. “We’re hoping these strategies can be shared with and exported to plant scientists throughout Africa for the benefit of Africans.”
Alabi’s related volunteer activities
Involvement in international projects focused on addressing viral diseases of major crops to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Africa, is only part of Alabi’s outreach. He is also actively engaged in mentoring local and international students and scholars. A number of the international students he has mentored are from Africa.
“I’ve hosted an exchange student from Zambia who came to the Weslaco center to study plant viruses in cassava, as well as two students from Nigeria who came to do work on grape viruses and viruses infecting corn and sugarcane,” he said.
He has served on more than 10 graduate student committees, including committees of students at Texas A&M University – Kingsville, and currently serves as senior virology editor for the Plant Disease journal.
In addition to receiving the Outstanding Volunteer Award, Alabi also received the APS Early Career Education Fellow Award in 2009 and the society’s Schroth’s Faces of the Future in Plant Virology award in 2010.