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Guatemalan Native Aspires to Protect Crops in Native Country

As an undergraduate, Walter Oliver Ac Pangán wrote a business plan to export fine cocoa from northern Guatemala, a venture that could boost his nation’s economy. As an intern with the University of Minnesota, he performed a case study of the cocoa farmers’ collaborative cooperative, a document that could advance the region’s production practices.

Today, Ac Pangán is serving as a research scholar with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, in Florida’s legendary citrus production region. His internship is being supervised by José X. Chaparro, a citrus and stone fruit breeder and geneticist at UF’s Gainesville campus, and Lorenzo Rossi, an innovative root biology scientist who joined a team of researchers at IRREC who are working hard to protect Florida’s citrus crop.

“I want to continue my studies in the United States and help my country to produce and market its best crops,” said Ac Pangán. “Crops need protection and I am learning how root health is an important part of protecting crops.”

A native of Cobán, Guatemala and a recent graduate of Zamorano University in Honduras where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness Management, Ac Pangàn intends to pursue both master’s and doctorate degrees in horticultural sciences. He said he wants to learn how to do more laboratory research because the work is critical for the development of healthy root systems for sustainable crops.

For Chaparro, Ac Pangán is conducting research with three peach and citrus groves in Fort Pierce. The same size groves and varieties are also planted in Gainesville to determine results for different varieties cultivated in varying climates. The peaches are being tested for yield performance. The citrus rootstocks are being tested for tolerance to HLB, or huanglongbing, more commonly known as citrus greening. The disease has reduced Florida’s citrus trees by more than 70 percent in the last 10 years.

Ac Pangán’s research at the IRREC Rossi Root Biology Laboratory involves root systems of citrus trees. “Roots are probably the most important part of any crop,” he said. “I want to understand root research in a laboratory so I can understand how roots work in the field.”

Ac Pangán is co-founder of AP International, a consulting company with a thrust in design and implementation of rural development projects with companies based in Guatemala. He said he has made a lifelong commitment to work as a consultant for food producers and exporters in his native country. And, he would like to become a research professor at an American university.

A high-achieving scholar, Ac Pangán won First Place in academic performance at Zamorano University in the Agribusiness Department in 2017. His academic work was recognized with high honors during all three years during his study at Zamorano University and the Escuela Nacional Central de Agricultura in Guatemala. Throughout his academic work, Ac Pangán has gained experience working with livestock, aquaculture, grains, fruit orchards and vegetables, and with packaging.

At this time in his educational career, he is gaining more experience with laboratory and field research.

“I am happy to participate in this internship,” said Ac Pangán. “It is an amazing experience for me and a big challenge because America is another culture and language and a good place to learn scientific research methods to protect crops.”

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