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USDA and Peace Corps Team Up in Screwworm Eradication Efforts in Panama

Over the past few months, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as part of the U.S. Panama Commission for Eradication of Screwworm, has started to partner with Peace Corps Volunteers in Panama to enhance APHIS’ surveillance activities. Volunteers will be working in rural Panama and meeting with local communities to raise awareness about as well as report suspected cases of New World screwworm, one of the most costly and economically significant pests of livestock in South America.

The New World screwworm is a parasite of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Female screwworms are attracted to and lay their eggs in exposed flesh wounds.  After eggs hatch, larvae burrow and feed on flesh, causing severe tissue damage and may even be lethal to the host. The screwworm was eradicated from the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Curacao and, finally, all of Central America in 2006 using the Sterile Insect Technique in which sterile male flies are released in massive numbers to mate with wild female populations. The mated female flies then lay non-viable eggs, leading to a decrease and subsequent eradication of screwworm populations. To prevent the screwworm from spreading north of South America, The Commission is maintaining a barrier at the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, by utilizing both preventive release of sterile flies and field surveillance.

Painting American Agriculture by Numbers

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. As part of this global event, every month this year USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will profile careers of individuals who are making significant contributions to improve agricultural statistics in the United States.

I arrived at my present position, an agricultural statistician responsible for analyzing demographic data, by a rather circuitous route. I majored in History and German at Rice University in Houston, Texas. I knew I wanted to explore a different society and see another part of the world, so after I graduated from college, I joined the Peace Corps.  I was stationed in Cameroon for two years. That experience gave me a strong desire to be involved in international development activities. After returning to the United States, I attended graduate school at the University of Illinois and Stanford University, where I obtained degrees in Agricultural Economics. My studies involved several statistics courses, so when my interests turned closer to home, I was able to find a position with the National Agricultural Statistics Service using those skills I had gained along the way.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Find a Home at USDA

Peace Corps volunteers find themselves in a variety of locales covering a wide range of issues related to agriculture, education and health. And when they return, many of them have the opportunity to apply their Peace Corps experience to their professional lives back in the States. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) boasts a large number of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) working in a variety of program areas from scientific affairs to capacity building. In honor of Peace Corps Month and the 50th anniversary of the Corps, it is fitting to look at some of the Agency’s RPCVs and how their service in the Peace Corps has benefited their work at USDA.