MásRiego project starts in Guatemala

Expanding irrigation and climate-smart farming to Guatemala

An international team led by UC Davis is working to connect 9,000 rural households in Guatemala with improved water management and climate-smart agriculture strategies, to increase food security and reduce poverty.

Called MásRiego (“more irrigation”), the project aims to increase farmers’ incomes and their use of climate-smart strategies, including drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. To enable farmers to adopt these new practices, the team will not only provide trainings but also build partnerships to increase farmers’ access to needed microcredit financing and irrigation equipment.

“The opportunity to impact so many farmers’ lives on this scale is exciting,” said Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “We’re taking lessons learned from our previous research — in Guatemala, Honduras and Cambodia — and building a team to help more small-scale farmers apply our findings and successfully use these innovative practices.”

The new project is part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative. It represents an additional $3.4 million investment in the UC Davis-led Horticulture Innovation Lab by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission in Guatemala.

Partnering with UC Davis is an international team with representatives from Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford in Guatemala; Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala; the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras; Kansas State University; and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Continue reading MásRiego project starts in Guatemala

Students help students learn state-of-the-art science

A version of this article originally appeared in the Feed the Future newsletter

In a classroom in Ghana, graduate student Dev Paudel from the University of Florida bent over computers with students and research assistants as they learned the basics of R, a free, open-source programming language for statistical analysis that he had installed on the computers earlier that week. As participants in this Kayaba Management Foundation training, the class members would next analyze the results of a needs survey of more than 300 farmers and vegetable vendors from nearby communities. Their goal?

“If we can use state-of-the-art statistical tools (including R) in Ghana, we can generate research findings that would be accepted by both policy makers and the international investor community,” said Hussein Yunus Alhassan, CEO of the Kayaba Management Foundation and chief instructor at Tamale Polytechnic. His new foundation is laying the groundwork for locally led research that supports the horticulture sector in northern Ghana, markets for horticulture value chains, and women’s empowerment.

Though only a graduate student himself, Paudel has several years of experience Continue reading Students help students learn state-of-the-art science

How one farmer’s invention is reducing food waste around the world

A version of this article originally appeared in the Feed the Future newsletter

In many developing countries, more than half of all fruits and vegetables are never eaten, but are instead lost to damage or spoilage after harvest. These post-harvest losses can mean that farmers need to sell their fresh produce immediately at whatever price they can get, before they lose the crops that represent investments of labor, water, and agricultural inputs. Improving how fruits and vegetables are handled after harvest can significantly prolong freshness — and cooling is key.

“The three most important aspects of postharvest handling are: temperature, temperature, temperature,” said Michael Reid, a postharvest specialist who works with the Horticulture Innovation Lab at the University of California, Davis. “In the developing world in particular, affordable cooling technology is mostly absent.”

Cooling can be an expensive challenge — even for American farmers.

As a farmer in upstate New York, Ron Khosla knew this problem too well. His vegetable crop was spoiling too quickly, but he could not afford to buy a walk-in cooler for his small farm. So he invented a solution: a small electrical device he called a CoolBot that tricks an air conditioner into getting colder without freezing over, turning a well-insulated room into a cold room for less than it cost to buy a refrigeration unit. Continue reading How one farmer’s invention is reducing food waste around the world

‘Local’ inspiration from half a world away

An entomology researcher in North Carolina. A program coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A social change specialist in Washington, D.C. A banana expert in Hawaii. A project evaluator in Ghana.

Many of the graduate students who have participated in the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s Trellis Fund projects have gone on to interesting careers in diverse places.

photo: portrait of Mark Lundy
Mark Lundy, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, now works with farmers in Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties in California.

One of the first students to travel with a Trellis Fund project was Mark Lundy, then a UC Davis grad student who worked in Malawi on a tomato project led by the Bvumbwe Agricultural Research Station.

Today Mark works with farmers in California as a Cooperative Extension advisor on crops such as tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat, sunflower, beans and vegetables, with the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources. (He also recently co-authored a popular paper about insects as food.)

This week, Mark wrote for the Feed the Future blog about his experience Continue reading ‘Local’ inspiration from half a world away

Reducing drudgery while improving soil for Cambodian vegetable farmers

A version of this article originally appeared in the Feed the Future newsletter.

Most commonly used with field crops, conservation agriculture combines three practices that help farmers invest in soil health, specifically:

  1. minimal soil disturbance (“no till”),
  2. continuous mulch cover, and
  3. rotating diverse crops.

These practices can also reduce labor and reduce water evaporation from the soil.

Manuel Reyes, professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, has helped farmers in many countries improve their soil and use water efficiently. In doing so, he has also partnered with three Feed the Future Innovation Labs, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Beginning in 2010, Reyes started working with farmers in Cambodia on conservation agriculture for field crops, with an international team supported by the SANREM Innovation Lab. Two year later, the team worked with 56 households over 149 hectares to use conservation agriculture principles.

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Women farmers in Cambodia are combining drip irrigation with conservation agriculture to grow vegetables with less drudgery, while improving soil health. (Photo by Manuel Reyes, NC A&T)

After testing conservation agriculture practices with vegetable crops in the United States, Reyes expanded his conservation agriculture work in Cambodia to focus on vegetable farmers. Now with additional funding from the Horticulture Innovation Lab, he added drip irrigation to conservation agriculture practices for vegetable farmers. This research sought to find whether combining these practices could reduce labor needs, increase yield, increase income and ultimately receive support from vegetable farmers.

For field trials in Cambodia, women farmers grew a variety of vegetables, including string beans, cucumber, Chinese cabbage, kale, tomatoes and eggplant. Continue reading Reducing drudgery while improving soil for Cambodian vegetable farmers