Michigan State University researcher named 2020 International Academy of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Fellow

Ajit Srivastava, professor in the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, has been awarded one of the field’s highest honors.

Headshot of Ajit Srivastava
Ajit Srivastava

Ajit Srivastava, professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE), has been named a 2020 Fellow of the International Academy of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (iAABE), one of the field’s top honors.

Part of the International Commission for Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (CIGR), iAABE aims to “identify and recognize individuals distinguished by their scientific and professional contributions” to the field. Other iAABE functions include: fostering international cooperation and exchange of information, promoting agricultural and biosystems engineering and other sciences and technology of importance for this area.  The organization also aims to stimulate international education and training in agricultural and biosystems engineering.

Srivastava will be honored at the 2021 CIGR annual meeting in Quebec, Canada. He is the third Spartan to be selected as an iAABE Fellow. Former BAE professor Fred Bakker-Arkema and Josse De Baerdemaeker, an MSU BAE graduate who went on to work in the field in Europe, both received the honor.

“It’s quite the honor. It feels wonderful,” Srivastava said. “I’m humbled. I'm very thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way, and to MSU, to our college and to our department. They have given me the opportunity, support and encouragement to be able to get to this point in my professional career.”

Lalit R. Verma, professor and department head of the University of Arkansas’ Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, nominated Srivastava to be an iAABE fellow. Verma is also an iAABE fellow and worked with Srivastava on the American Society for Biological and Agricultural Engineers’ (ASABE) Global Engagement Task Force.

An innovator in global agriculture

Known globally for his efforts to modernize agriculture technology, Srivastava is has received multiple international grants during his career at MSU, including a $25 million grant from USAID to establish the MSU Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, for which he served as founding co-director.

“I truly believe that ag and biosystems engineers, have a lot to offer to the world, but our society has been focused mainly on U.S. agriculture,” he said. “That’s tremendous, but it is time to take our expertise globally to bring about similar transformation in the developing world.”

As part of the Appropriate-scale Mechanization Consortium funded by USAID Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab at Kansas State University, Srivastava is examining solar technologies, such as a solar-powered traction unit and solar irrigation systems. 

Ajit Srivastava and woman with solar irrigation system
Ajit Srivastava (left) helps farmers in Burkina Faso develop solar irrigation systems.

He also leads an ASABE initiative to modernize African agriculture, which focuses on applying technology and innovation to grow the continent’s agricultural industries and address pertinent problems.

“While African agriculture poses many challenges, it offers many opportunities as well,” Srivastava said. "A modern agriculture holds the promise to food security, economic development and improving quality of life in Africa.”

Srivastava is no stranger to the benefits a land-grant university can have in modernizing agriculture.

“I am a product of USAID intervention in India,” he said. “I went to U.P. Agricultural University (now called the Pant University of Agriculture and Technology) in Pantnagar, India for my undergraduate education, the first agricultural university that was built in India based on the U.S. land-grant System. I was familiar with the U.S. land-grant system before I arrived in the U.S. as a graduate student.”

After seeing how an investment in a scientific approach to agriculture helped India progress as a nation – going from an importer of goods after it was freed from British Rule in 1947 to a net exporter today – Srivastava was inspired to follow this model and adapt it to other regions.

“Agriculture provided the first layer of stability and food security,” he said. “Food security leads to political security. You need that for any country to progress. “This network of land-grant universities in India made it happen. India continued to invest in education, in agriculture, technology and business, to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth. ‘Why can't we apply a similar approach to Africa?’”

A champion for Spartan engineers

In addition to improving global agriculture technology, Srivastava is passionate about preparing future engineers for careers in food, health, energy and the environment.

During his 43 years at MSU, Srivastava has helped establish a study abroad program on renewable bioenergy systems offered in Sweden, the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center and south campus anaerobic digester in East Lansing, a pilot scale lab for food safety research, and a collaboration with the University of Costa Rica to help faculty complete their graduate studies at MSU.

From 1997-2015, Srivastava was BAE chair. Under his leadership, undergraduate enrollment increased by more than double, and grant expenditures tripled on a per faculty basis. He’s most proud, however, of the over 20 faculty and staff members who he hired during that time. In fact, In fact, the first hire he made as chair was current BAE chair, Bradley Marks in 1999.

“The bottom line in any department is the faculty,” Srivastava said. “They are the ones who teach. They are the ones who do the research, and the chair's job is to create opportunities, get the right people in place, and get out of their way.”

Srivastava partnered with the MSU departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and Forestry to hire six multidisciplinary faculty focused on bioenergy efforts. He also helped champion BAE as a multidisciplinary department, leading the effort to change the department’s name from Agricultural Engineering to Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and shift the focus to food, water and energy, in addition to agriculture.

“I always say that the world's problems are not defined in the same clean way that a university is organized,” he said. “To solve real-world problems, you have to take a multidisciplinary approach. Different disciplines have to come together to solve the problem, but we have to be organized as a discipline. It has been very easy to create multidisciplinary teams to address a problem, and that has been a real strength of MSU.”

Srivastava feels fortunate to have spent the majority of his career at Michigan State — and to have made an impact through his work.

“I'm just as excited about being here after 43 years as I was when I first got here,” he said. “MSU is a very caring university. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and people I’ve worked with.”

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