Fresh vegetables at a market in Bangaldesh, long beans, eggplant, squash, peppers, okra, bittermelon, herbs, root vegetables, cabbage, melons

Importance of horticulture

Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture focuses on horticultural crops, primarily fruits and vegetables. Common definitions for horticultural crops also include herbs, spices and ornamental flowers. 

Why is horticulture important

Horticulture enriches diets: Horticulture — specifically, growing fruits and vegetables — provides critical nutrients for a balanced diet. Diets low in fruits and vegetables contribute significantly to some of the world’s most widespread and debilitating nutrient-related disorders.

Horticulture increases 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

Improving livelihoods — by increasing farmer profits and diversifying nutrient-rich diets — are major goals of the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s research efforts around the world. The program is guided by the Global Horticulture Assessment, an in-depth, collaborative, global analysis that also identified these challenges for horticulture development:

  • 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 locally adapted research on tools such as 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.

These three themes of gender equity, technological innovation, and information access are critical themes in all projects of the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

Working across the horticulture value chain

The Horticulture Innovation Lab's research spans the horticultural value chain, from issues related to seed systems through produce marketing. Information resources created by the program are organized on this website in relation to the various stages of an agricultural value chain, including:

  • Seed systems and germplasm
    How can farmers access higher quality seed and improved crop varieties? How can local seed saving practices be improved? 
  • Fruit and vegetable production
    What agronomic practices can improve horticultural crop production? How can production be more profitable for farmers? 
  • Soil and irrigation
    What tools and practices can help vegetable farmers improve soil health and access improved irrigation? 
  • Pest management
    How can farmers improve pest management in their fruit and vegetable crops? What tools and practices can manage pests safely? How can horticulture farmers in developing countries use integrated pest management tools?
  • Postharvest practices
    After harvest, how can fresh fruits and vegetables best be handled to maintain quality? How can fresh produce be handled, cooled, packed and transported to reduce postharvest losses? What tools make postharvest practices more successful? What training makes adopting improved postharvest practices a viable option for farmers, traders and others?
  • Food safety
    How can critical food safety practices be better shared with farmers who handle fresh produce? What are challenges and solutions on small-scale farms in developing countries that may raise livestock and grow vegetables for fresh markets? How can scientific capacity to conduct food safety and microbial science in developing countries be expanded?
  • Nutrition
    How can more consumers access nutritious fruits and vegetables? What agronomic practices support improved nutrition? What horticultural practices increase dietary diversification among farmer households?
  • Gender considerations
    How can horticulture provide a pathway for women to improve their household's nutrition or income? How can training better serve the needs of women farmers, who often grow vegetable crops?
  • Training and extension
    What methods improve agricultural extension of horticulture-related information? How can researchers learn skills that advance innovation and design appropriate solutions? What tools and practices make new technologies more available and likely to be adopted by farmers?