This award recognizes outstanding contributions to plant pathology by APS members for countries other than their own. Contributions may have been made through collaborative projects, sabbaticals, short- and long-term assignments with educational or governmental agencies, including, but not limited to, international centers and research institutes.
Robert Kemerait received his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of Florida in 2000. Currently a professor of plant pathology at the University of Georgia (UGA), Kemerait has spent his career at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, where he is an extension specialist responsible for management of diseases affecting agronomic crops. He has integrated international programming into every aspect of his work as an extension plant pathologist.
Kemerait is deeply committed to helping those less fortunate around the world, and it was, in large part, this passion that led him to a career in plant pathology. In 2002, he became co-PI on a USAID Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) grant in Guyana. Addressing the needs of the peanut value chain among Amerindian farmers, he led the development and implementation of programs that included education and aflatoxin mitigation. He and his colleagues assisted two NGOs in development of local industries among Amerindian women for production of peanut butter and cassava snacks included in government-sponsored nutrition programs. Outcomes included increased yields though adoption of new pest management practices and less reliance on slash-and-burn agriculture. The cottage industries empowered women by providing them with a paying job for the first time and led to an estimated influx of US$1.5 million over 10 years. During this time, Kemerait produced an extension guide for peanut production in Guyana, which he has since had translated into Haitian Creole and Filipino Tagalog.
In 2007, Kemerait became involved in agricultural development in Haiti among peasant farmers as part of the USAID-CRSP and the USAID Peanut Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL). His role has been to support efforts to improve the peanut value chain in this desperately poor country through education, improved varieties and production practices, and aflatoxin mitigation. Success can be measured not only in the number of Haitian agriculturalists trained, but also in increased yields through better management and improved varieties. He has led efforts to establish field trials and training opportunities for farmers and agricultural specialists. An organization funded through the Clinton Foundation (Accesso) established depots to provide goods and services to farmers based on information learned in this program. Yields have increased by an estimated 25%, and efforts continue so that medicines and foods for kids can source an increasing portion of the peanuts they use from Haitian farmers.
Kemerait has shown the value of his efforts in international agriculture to American farmers, extension agents, and students. He has provided opportunities for colleagues to visit Amerindian villages in Guyana. He mentored two Ph.D. graduate students from U.S. universities as they completed research in Guyana. He has included five UGA graduate students, an American peanut farmer, and staff on work in Haiti. He has also incorporated management of peanut diseases in Haiti into the doctoral research of Ph.D. student Abraham Fulmer. Fulmer spent several months at a time in Haiti conducting research, supporting the PMIL project, and training students. UGA Extension Bulletin 1499, Haitian Peanut Research Report, which was published in 2018, summarizes research to improve peanut productivity through management of foliar diseases, low soil fertility, and other constraints.
Kemerait currently serves in the APS Office of International Programs and previously chaired the APS Tropical Plant Pathology Committee (2014–2017). He is a member of the Philippine Phytopathological Society (PPS) and is the first non-Filipino to be elected to the PPS Board of Directors. He has recruited and advised eight students from the Philippines and mentored Dr. Janet Luis, professor, Benguet State University, in her Fulbright Scholar Program on management of aflatoxin with atoxigenic strains of Aspergillus flavus. Upon returning to the Philippines, Luis was able to secure a USAID-STRIDE grant based on collaboration with Kemerait, which has supported work on aflatoxin management for 3 faculty, 4 staff, and 10 students at Benguet State.
In other recent projects in the Philippines, Kemerait conducted training on peanut production for 70 women in the remote and mountainous Abra Province. He led efforts to establish field trials there in 2018. The data from the trials showed that peanut yields can be doubled by planting a new, more disease-resistant variety. In 2019, he funded travel across the peanut production regions of northern Luzon for Frank and Lorna Nolin (Frank's Designs for Peanut), demonstrating a small-scale peanut sheller that would greatly increase productivity and profit for farmers. Using traditional methods, 3–10 lb of peanuts could be hand-shelled per hour. With the hand-cranked peanut sheller, peanuts can be shelled at 300 lb per hour. A peanut sheller was donated to Mariano Marcos State University for use by farmers. This work will continue in 2021 with funding from a Fulbright Fellowship awarded to Kemerait.
In conclusion, Kemerait has melded his role as an extension specialist domestically with an international passion and dedication that serves farmers, students, agricultural professionals, and families in both developed and developing countries. His training of farmers and graduate students to conduct applied research and produce extension materials has exemplified his absolute dedication to the welfare and future of those in the developing world. He has demonstrated that the difference one makes has less to do with where one lives and everything to do with the passion and creativity used to address the challenges faced by farmers worldwide.