American professor teaching from African saddle

Food and Agriculture: from Cairo to Cape Town at 10 mph

An American university professor is combining distance learning and bicycling by offering a satellite class from his bicycle in Africa this semester.

Paul Porter, a professor in the department of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota, will be teaching a class available to students at the U of M while traveling by bicycle through ten African countries — starting in Cairo, Egypt and ending in Cape Town, South Africa from January 10 through May 9.

As he travels he will be studying the food, agriculture and agro-ecosystems of each African country. He will relate these observations back to a class through a satellite phone, e-mails and postings on his website. The professor will be traveling with Canadian-based bicycling tour-group Tour d’Afrique.

"I hope the students will learn more about Africa in general, cultures in Africa, agro-eco systems and food, and will have a better appreciation of what we have in the United States," Dr. Porter said. "Maybe by seeing different African cultures they'll take a closer look at what they consume in the US compared to how people do things in Africa."

The course — “Food and Agriculture from Cairo to Cape Town at 10mph” — will be managed on campus by grad student and teaching assistant Maggie Mangan. She will facilitate interaction with Porter and coordinate speakers and all other classroom activities. The class will take place from 8:05 to 9:20 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays on the St. Paul campus.

"I'm not concerned about our safety in Africa," he added. "We've had faculty do a similar program by bicycle in the United States, and I would say I'll probably feel safer doing mine in Africa. I was in the Peace Corps in Africa 30 years ago, and I know people are kind and generous all over the world."

According to Porter, Tour d’Afrique has conducted this bicycle ride annually since 2003. Each year there are typically between 35 and 55 riders. Some riders race, some participate just for the experience. The tour will have approximately 96 cycling days, averaging about 124km or 77 miles each day. There will be 22 rest days and two travel days for a total of 120 days. The group will travel through 10 African countries: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.

For more information on the bike tour and route see www.tourdafrique.com.

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