Five more years for the Horticulture Innovation Lab

New grant aims to build global food security through produce research

A new $18.75 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will boost international fruit and vegetable research led by the University of California, Davis.

The award extends for five more years a research program established at UC Davis in 2009 as the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program. Recently, the program was renamed the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture.

“We believe this new, larger investment validates the work we’ve done with the Horticulture Innovation Lab and recognizes the pivotal role that fruits and vegetables play in people’s lives, both in improving health and increasing rural incomes,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, program director and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences.

New tools for farmers around the world

In its first four years, the Horticulture Innovation Lab trained nearly 32,000 individuals in more than 30 countries, including more than 9,800 farmers who have improved their farming practices. The program also established regional centers in Thailand, Honduras and Kenya as hubs to circulate the program’s research findings.

Through collaborative research, the program has successfully adapted more than 500 new tools, management practices and seed varieties to aid farmers who grow fruits and vegetables in different countries.

One such tool is called the CoolBot, a temperature control system developed by an American farmer as an inexpensive way to cool his farm’s produce. The system was later marketed to other small-scale farmers in the United States to reduce losses of fruits and vegetables after harvest.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab has tested the CoolBot with farmers in Honduras, Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and elsewhere — including at the UC Davis Student Farm.

Similarly, the program has successfully adapted:

  • zeolite-based drying beads made by a private company to dry and store high-quality seeds for better germination in tropical climates;
  • agricultural nets that keep pests away from crops with products made by a local mosquito bed net company in Tanzania; and
  • an inexpensive solar dryer design with a chimney, designed by UC Davis scientists to more efficiently dry and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables even on cloudy days.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab tests and adapts these innovations through grant-funded research projects led by U.S. universities with international partners including entrepreneurs, foreign scientists, farm extension agents, government representatives and other.

photo: woman slides tray of tomatoes into a solar dryer
Noel Makete, a Kenyan scientist, checks on vegetables in a solar dryer during a Horticulture Innovation Lab training session in Arusha, Tanzania, during the program’s first five years. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Amanda Crump)

“This award underscores our university’s renewed emphasis on international agriculture. It also emphasizes our partnerships with other land-grant universities to solve global problems by pooling our expertise,” said Jim Hill, associate dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“These kinds of programs foster not only solutions to agricultural problems, but also leadership skills and long-term relationships that turn our partners into unofficial U.S. ambassadors in the long run,” he said.

Global food security on behalf of the American people

photo: woman holding new and old office signs
Amanda Crump, associate director, hangs a new office sign as the program adjusts to its new name, the Horticulture Innovation Lab. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Brenda Dawson)

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is one of 24 innovation labs that leverage U.S. university research to advance agricultural science and reduce poverty in developing countries. The labs are part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. UC Davis leads five of the Feed the Future Innovation Labs with USAID funding, more than any other university.

Currently, the program is selecting new research projects that focus on ways to reduce postharvest losses in fruits and vegetables, ways to improve nutritional deficiencies through horticulture, and address gender equity in agriculture.

About Feed the Future

Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With an emphasis on smallholder farmers — particularly women — Feed the Future supports a country-led approach to reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition by promoting growth in the agriculture sector.

About the U.S. Agency for International Development

The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. The agency leads the U.S. government’s efforts to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.

UC Davis is growing California

At UC Davis, we and our partners are nourishing our state with food, economic activity and better health, playing a key part in the state’s role as the top national agricultural producer for more than 50 years. UC Davis is participating in UC’s Global Food Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano, harnessing the collective power of UC to help feed the world and steer it on the path to sustainability.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

This press release was originally published by UC Davis News Service.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program is led by a team at UC Davis, with funding from USAID as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative. For more information, visit http://horticulture.ucdavis.edu.

Top photo information: Sean Kearney, then a UC Davis graduate student, interviews farmers in Uganda for a project with Dr. Kate Scow during the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s first five years. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo)

Why growing fruits and vegetables matters

Improving livelihoods — through higher profits and diversified, nutrient-rich diets — is a major goal for the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s research efforts around the world.

What horticulture can do:

  • Enriching diets: Horticulture — growing fruits and vegetables — provides critical nutrients for a balanced diet. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is a major factor in some of the world’s most widespread and debilitating nutrient-related disorders.
  • Increasing incomes: Farmers growing high-value crops, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers or herbs, consistently earn more than those growing other commodities. Horticulture can be an engine for agricultural and economic diversification.

What horticulture needs:

  • Gender equity: Vegetables, fruits and cut flowers are often grown and marketed by women, but women often have less access to markets, land, inputs and education. Addressing these constraints places women growers on the path to increasing productivity and expanding horticultural markets.
  • Technological innovation: Given the complexity of horticulture, innovative “leapfrog” technologies can reduce constraints and input costs that limit the ability of smallholder farmers to achieve maximum profitability.
  • Access to information and research capacity: Commercial success in horticulture depends on improved cultivars, management tools, market knowledge and effective postharvest practices. Sustained horticultural growth requires access to reliable information, a well trained workforce and local capacity to conduct both original and adaptive research.

Excerpt from the Horticulture Innovation Lab brochure.

See also: One-pager on how horticulture can improve nutrition