The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture has awarded 15 new Trellis Fund grants to organizations in Africa and Asia, matching these new projects to 16 graduate students who will provide agriculture expertise requested by the organizations.
The Trellis Fund is a model started by the Horticulture Innovation Lab in 2011 as a way to connect organizations that are well-rooted in their local communities in developing countries with budding agricultural scientists. In addition to helping local farmers, the projects also build the institutional capacity of the organizations and expose graduate students to critical agricultural needs in transitional economies.
Selected organizations each receive $4,000 grants for a wide variety of projects that will help smallholder farmers improve how they grow or sell fruit and vegetable crops.
Sometimes it helps to pause and reconnect with what motivates your work.
For Karin Albornoz — a Ph.D. student studying Horticulture and Agronomy who works in a UC Davis lab on molecular biology of tomato postharvest chilling injury — that means getting out into the world to work directly with small-scale farmers.
“I spend so much time in the lab,” she said. “Sometimes I spend a whole day in the lab extracting RNA or writing a paper. This reminds me why I am doing this work: to make a real-world impact.”
In December, she returned from a trip to Uganda where she did exactly that. In partnership with a local organization called Ndibwami Integrated Rescue Project (NIRP), Albornoz shared her expertise with farmers through several hands-on workshops about improving harvest practices and postharvest handling of pineapple, passion fruit and tomatoes. The project she worked on was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, a global research network led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of he U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future.
Though Albornoz has worked with rural farmers before, this was her first time working in Africa.
“Everywhere I looked, things were growing. There were people working in the field, women cooking, and everyone was working with food,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of stigma – when you talk about Africa, you see people’s faces change and they’re thinking about things like drought and famine and starving children. But what I saw doesn’t fit that stereotype. The challenges they are facing seem to be about not having access to opportunities.”
The workshops she led are part of the NIRP organization’s efforts to connect farmers with more lucrative markets that pay higher prices for quality produce, through a Trellis Fund project.
Selected students will travel to Nepal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda or Ghana while providing agricultural expertise to a local organization and their farming clientele.
Graduate students who are attending four of the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s partner universities — North Carolina State University, the University of Florida, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa — are eligible to apply. The deadline for applications is Oct. 27, 2017.
University students work with organizations in developing countries, to help farmers
Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in postharvest biology for the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, represented the DryCard during the competition.
What is the role of trust in our food system? In the United States, our trust in food is often implicit. We can generally trust that the fruits and vegetables we buy at a grocery store or farmers market are safe to eat — and we are often free to shop without even thinking about that trust.
Between farmers and agricultural scientists too, trust often plays an important role. If you’re a farmer, you need to be able to trust that investing your time or money in a new technique or in attending a workshop will indeed improve your business.
But it can be easy to forget that trust is a critical first step in many of these agricultural relationships.