Dr. John E. Bowman was trained as a Plant Pathologist and is now a senior manager for agricultural research with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He was born and raised in Massachusetts and attended college in Maine (Bowdoin College, B.A. Biology and Romance Languages 1976). He completed graduate work at the University of Wisconsin (M.A. Ibero-American Studies 1977; M.S. Plant Pathology 1980) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D. Plant Pathology 1984). He has worked in international agricultural development in over 40 countries through appointments with the CGIAR (CIMMYT, CIAT), multinational food/seed companies (PepsiCo, URC, Technico), DAI (a major USAID contractor), and USAID (Offices of Agricultural Research and Policy, Office of Nutrition).
Dr. Bowman acquired a passion for foreign cultures at an early stage in his career, studying in Spain as an undergraduate, becoming near fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, taking the time to pursue a degree in Ibero-American Studies and then undertaking Master’s research on a tropical plant disease (bacterial wilt of potato) with funding from the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru. He then pursued doctoral research on soybean diseases through support from the International Soybean Program (INTSOY) – which included a year of field work at Brazil’s National Soybean Research Center (CNPSo/EMBRAPA). Prior to his current role at USAID, Dr. Bowman worked globally in numerous international positions – as a breeder/pathologist in CIMMYT’s Wheat Program (Mexico), as a pathologist in CIAT’s Central American Bean Program (Costa Rica), as an environmental/IPM advisor to USAID programs in six Asian countries (DAI Asia RAP Project), as an agro-manager for PepsiCo Foods in seven countries in Europe and Latin America, as agriculture director for a multinational food company (URC – Philippines, China, Thailand), as a vegetable and fruit supply chain advisor on a JICA project in the Brazilian Amazon (Amazonas State), and as a global director of USAID sanitary/phytosanitary programming (DAI RAISE SPS Project).
In the 1990s, Dr. Bowman worked in USAID’s Office of Nutrition as an advisor on agro-processing, food safety, and nutrition/agriculture linkages (specifically, breeding crops for higher micronutrient content). Currently, Dr. Bowman is a supervisory USAID Program Area Leader, managing an agricultural research portfolio with investments of over $200M in over 30 developing countries. He is dedicated to the pursuit of linking scientists and graduate students from U.S. universities to agricultural research efforts in the developing world. As Program Area Leader for “Nutritious and Safe Foods”, his research grant portfolio spans the following areas with the following lead institutions: IPM (Virginia Tech), horticulture (UC-Davis; World Vegetable Center), post-harvest loss (Kansas State), nutrition (Tufts), food processing (Purdue), aquaculture (Oregon State), livestock (Florida), and agricultural health (IFPRI).
Recently, Dr. Bowman has made major contributions to the drafting of the U.S. government’s Global Food Security Research Strategy, which supports the Global Food Security Act of 2016. Principally through his leadership of USAID’s IPM program, he remains a dedicated, global ambassador for the field of plant pathology. In addition to his leadership in IPM, he has led the pursuit of post-harvest research at USAID and ensured new levels of investment in drying, storage, and processing technologies – and much of this work is focused against the scourge of mycotoxins, which pose a significant threat to food security and human/animal health. The following list describes a few of the USAID-funded activities under Dr. Bowman’s leadership that have made contributions to the field of plant pathology:
IPM Innovation Lab (led by Virginia Tech)
- Research on “host free period” as a primary control measure against Tomato yellow leaf curl virus on tomato and pepper in West Africa (UC-Davis; Mali Institute of Rural Economy)
- Establishment of the International Plant Diagnostic Network (IPDN/Ohio State Univ.) and the International Plant Virus Disease Network (IPVDN/Virginia Tech) which trained thousands of extensionists/scientists in Africa and Asia.
- Graduation of over 450 U.S. and international students with M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology, entomology, and IPM since 1993.
Horticultural Innovation Lab (led by UC–Davis)
- Promotion of ceramic seed drying beads to greatly improve horticultural seed germination and vigor against damping off and other seed-borne diseases in humid, tropical environments (Rhino Research Corp.; Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation; Lal Teer Seed Co.)
Post-Harvest Innovation Lab (Kansas State)
- Executed the first national mycotoxin assessment of nuts, raisins, and wheat in Afghanistan and established a testing laboratory in Kabul. Grain stores were found to have unacceptably high levels of mycotoxins and ergot alkaloids, prompting new levels of national investment in post-harvest practices (Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock).
Nutrition Innovation Lab (Tufts)
- Rural assessments in Nepal showing that over 95% of pregnant and lactating women in USAID target zones have detectable levels of aflatoxin in their blood (Patan Academy of Health Sciences)
Dr. Bowman has been an active APS member since 1978 and has served multiple appointments with the Tropical Plant Pathology Committee, International Cooperation Committee, and the Office of International Programs. He has organized special APS annual meeting events such as “Blazing an International Career Path in Plant Pathology” (2005), “The Effects of International Research in Plant Pathology on United States Agriculture” (1987), and “International Problems in Tropical Plant Pathology” (1986). He has presented the overarching work of USAID’s agricultural research team at many professional meetings (APS, ESA, ASA, ASHS, IPPC, ICPP, FAO, etc.). Recently, he has focused more on direct speaking engagements at U.S. land-grant universities where he has endeavored to inspire young students and faculty to get involved in international agriculture through plant pathology. His message to these audiences is that highly trained, practically-minded plant pathologists are sorely needed in “international service” to the developing world from platforms such as Peace Corps, CGIAR centers, multinational companies, international non-profit organizations, and donor organizations such as USAID. Finally, he posits that his own career is a testament to the “launching” ability of the discipline of plant pathology into these highly influential career spaces in global food security—from which transformational differences in the lives of resource-poor, smallholder farmers can be made.