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Three Delta states sign joint educational plan
By Rick Bogren
LSU AgCenter Communications
VICKSBURG -- Residents of some of the most economically depressed areas of the country soon will enjoy strengthened educational and outreach programs in four target areas.
That's the result of a unique agreement signed by Cooperative Extension Service directors from three Mississippi Delta states recently.
Meeting in Vicksburg on May 15, the Extension Service directors from Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana signed a "memorandum of understanding" to conduct multi-state programs directed at childhood obesity, work force preparedness, the Master Farmer program and rural community development.
"The River doesn't stop problems from the standpoint of community development, health or agricultural issues," said Joe McGilberry, director of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The three states have joined in the cooperative program to address problems in the Delta counties and parishes that need the most help, he said.
The three states all put effort into the agreement without concern about their own specific programs, said Ivory Lyles, associate vice president for the Extension Service in the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
"We're aware of each contribution," Lyles said. "We have a common interest."
It wasn't by accident the three met in the Delta to sign the agreement, said Paul Coreil, vice chancellor and director of Extension with the LSU AgCenter.
"We all share a passion to help people," Coreil said. "We want to use our talents from across three states to bring excellence to an area that really needs help."
Lyles said the program will work because colleagues in each state have common goals. "We believe in what we're doing for the people of our states," he said.
The Extension directors said specialists in each state selected the target programs. And they said they expect the program to result in shared faculty positions with shared funding and joint programming.
McGilberry said the individual program staffs from the three states will work together to select three or four counties or parishes in each state to pilot each program.
"We can bring our strengths together," he said.
Coreil said all three states are committed to share technology to bring information to rural areas of the states. He pointed to a new Center for Rural Development in West Carroll Parish in Louisiana as an indication of community dedication to improving life in such areas.
That $2 million facility was built with local funding and will house Extension specialists in economic development and in nutrition and health. It also will have distance learning capabilities -- which will allow educational sessions to be broadcast from other locations to the facility -- and a 1,500-person conference center.
In the agricultural arena, both Arkansas and Mississippi will be adopting the Master Farmer program developed by the LSU AgCenter. The Master Farmer program focuses on environmental stewardship with certification provided to the producers at completion of the program, Coreil said.
"Farmers will do the right thing," Coreil said. "The program is based on research and best management practices that will lead to conservation plans for individual farms."
All three states affirmed the importance of production agriculture in the agreement and agreed the Master Farmer program is a key.
"We're bringing together the major players in agriculture," Lyles said. "It's a partnership Extension is playing a role in -- patterned after the program in Louisiana."
The directors also see childhood obesity as a key program.
McGilberry cited 300,000 deaths in the United States each year because of childhood obesity. He said research indicates 5 percent to 10 percent of children were obese in the 1970s, but one in three children (33 percent) is overweight today.
"It's almost a national crisis in obesity," McGilberry said.
Lyles said Extension's presence in local communities allows the organizations to target messages to different audiences -- both children and parents in this case.
The Extension directors hailed the three-state agreement as the first of its kind in the country. And they said the initial memorandum of understanding will be in effect for three years -- although they stressed that the collaborative efforts are likely to continue much longer than the life of the agreement.
The university officials also said they expect other programs to be added in the future as the success of the initial programs is confirmed.