|January 31, 2002
Volume 32 Number 9
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Scrambling Through Thailand
Fulbright Scholar studies resource management in Thailand
For Lee Altier, associate professor in the College of Agriculture, learning
Thai is only one piece of a busy professional schedule in Chiang Mai,
Thailand. The recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholars Fellowship, Altier
is currently workingas a lecturer, researcher, and consultanton
agricultural issues. This is Altiers first trip to Thailand, and
he said, I am scrambling to learn the language on the run.
At Chiang Mai University, Altier teaches a graduate class in agricultural
ecology to students from Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Fortunately, I teach in English, and most of my colleagues here
can converse well in English, said Altier. The university is modern,
with nice facilities and smart classrooms, he said. It includes
a large agricultural program with several research stations around northern
Thailand. Altier also teaches over the Internet and lectures on sustainable
development and water-quality management.
In addition to teaching, Altier is researching agricultural systems of
the highland tribal communities. Recently, he has been working with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a computer model that simulates
the effects of riparian management on pollutants (particularly nitrogen,
phosphorus, and sediment) entering a stream. The model is oriented toward
temperate climate conditions, however, and his research will determine
the models applicability to the different vegetation growth patterns
found in tropical conditions.
Altier is also studying the relationship between production intensity
and pollutants in ground and surface water. Production practices in the
area include monocropping, where a single crop is planted year after year,
crop rotations, and swiddening, where the forest is cleared
to grow crops for one or two years and then abandoned for three or more
years for fertility regeneration.
Altiers Thai students sometimes ask why American researchers study
agricultural production in other countries when the United States has
the most efficient agriculture in the world, said Altier. Although U.S.
agriculture is efficient in its use of labor, it is often not very efficient
in its use of energy, he explained. Also, looking at management impacts
in other parts of the world where agricultural technologies such as pesticides,
fertilizers, and mechanization are just being introduced can provide an
understanding of the potential effects of our own management practices
on water quality, biodiversity, and human communities.
As in California, fertile agricultural land in Thailand is disappearing
rapidly due to urbanization, according to Altier. From a global perspective,
especially with increasing international agricultural trade, it is important
to consider what resource management makes the most sense in terms of
production of the world food supply and protection of environmental quality,
Before coming to Chico in 1995, Altier worked as a research horticulturist
for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Agricultural Research Service
Southeast Watershed Research Laboratory in Tifton, Georgia. He received
a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. in
horticulture from Cornell University.
In addition to the Fulbright award, Altier has received grants for other
international work on agricultural issues. He received a European Union
Research Grant for research on nitrogen control by landscape structures
in Brussels, and he received a Twinning Grant with Romania from the National
Research Council to study management and water-quality functions. He has
also received several grants for development of the Riparian Ecosystem
Management Model user interface.
With Altier in Thailand are his wife, Karen, and their two children,
Aaron, 4, and Ariana, 8. In their free time, he said, they have been bicycling
through the villages and hills around Chiang Mai, hiking, and exploring
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