UC Davis ‘DryCard’ invention wins competition to reduce food loss in Africa

A new invention from UC Davis researchers won a competition as the top emerging technology to reduce food loss and waste across the African continent.

The low-cost tool, called the DryCardTM, shows farmers whether their dried food products are dry enough to store safely, reducing food losses and risks of mold and associated toxins.

The DryCard beat out more than 200 entries to win the grand prize in the “All Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovation Challenge.” Top technologies and innovations were invited to pitch to an audience of about 600 participants, including private investors and international organizations, at the first All-Africa Postharvest Congress and Exhibition, March 31 in Nairobi, Kenya.

group holding DryCards with prize check
From left, Bertha Mjawa and Elizabeth Mitcham wave DryCards in victory as they accept the grand prize from organizers during the All-Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovations Challenge. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Erin McGuire/UC Davis)

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.

“I have never seen such strong interest in a technology like this,” Continue reading UC Davis ‘DryCard’ invention wins competition to reduce food loss in Africa

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

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

Mitcham honored as ASHS Outstanding International Horticulturist

Elizabeth Mitcham, UC Davis scientist, was honored by the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) as its Outstanding International Horticulturist for 2015.

She accepted the award Aug. 4 at the ASHS annual conference in New Orleans. The award recognizes distinguished contributions to horticultural sciences for 10 years or more, with emphasis on international activities and impacts.

portrait: Elizabeth Mitcham
Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and Postharvest Technology Center at UC Davis (high-res)

At UC Davis, Mitcham is director of both the Horticulture Innovation Lab and Postharvest Technology Center programs. As director of the internationally recognized Postharvest Technology Center, she has helped train professionals from more than 40 countries in how best to care for fruits and vegetables after harvest, to reduce food waste and improve food quality. She has hosted numerous foreign scientists and students in her lab at the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, where her research focuses on the regulation of fruit ripening, understanding calcium deficiency disorders, and maintaining fruit quality after harvest.

Mitcham also leads the Horticulture Innovation Lab, which targets fruit and vegetable research in developing countries to reduce poverty and improve nutrition. Her leadership helps build international partnerships between scientists and develop technologies that meet the horticultural needs of smallholder farmers. The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

“I’ve really become passionate about what horticulture can bring to reducing poverty and improving lives,” she said. “Meeting people who are now able to send their children to school or buy books—those one-on-one interactions are what really stick with me. It is so rewarding to be able to work in this field.” Continue reading Mitcham honored as ASHS Outstanding International Horticulturist

U.S. scientists begin new horticulture projects in developing countries

Agricultural scientists from five land-grant universities have been awarded $4.2 million to research ways to improve livelihoods for smallholder fruit and vegetable farmers in developing countries.

Each of the new projects brings together an international research team under the Horticulture Innovation Lab, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development and leadership by the University of California, Davis. The collaborative program is part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Does horticulture improve farmers’ lives?

How growing fruits and vegetables can improve the lives of farmers and their communities — by improving aspects of nutrition and gender equity — are the themes of two new projects, each funded for five years.

“We’re making a concerted effort to understand how horticulture can make a difference in the lives of the world’s poorest people,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, Horticulture Innovation Lab director and UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis. “We hope the results from our gender and nutrition projects will inform policymakers and donors about the benefits of supporting horticulture for development.”

Janelle Larson of Penn State will lead a $1.3 million project in Honduras that will analyze how participating in the horticultural value chain can empower women and support gender equity. The analysis will also identify policies, regulations or cultural norms that limit women’s participation in horticulture. Then the team will develop curriculum and deliver training to reduce barriers for women, with partners at the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano University. (More information about this project from Penn State)

James Simon of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, will lead a $2 million project focused on improving dietary diversity through enhanced access to African indigenous vegetables in Kenya and Zambia. Once considered “famine foods,” these indigenous vegetables such as amaranth, African nightshade and spider plant have increased in popularity — but meeting market demand still presents several production and marketing challenges. This project will work to improve the value chain for indigenous vegetables and will monitor how changes to vegetable production and marketing affect household consumption of these nutritious vegetables.

Spin-off projects remix lessons learned

Three new grants take completed projects in new directions, with ideas that came from insights, surprises and lessons learned during previous Horticulture Innovation Lab projects. These “spin-off” grants are each funded for $300,000 over two years, led by researchers at UC Davis, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Marketing vegetables grown with conservation agriculture methods in Cambodia and Nepal: In an earlier project, Manuel Reyes of North Carolina A&T State University worked with women farmers in Cambodia on field experiments that compared traditional growing methods for vegetables to conservation agriculture methods, which can reduce labor while providing environmental benefits. The labor-saving methods were so popular with the farmers that many of them asked to cut the experiment short — so that they could adopt the newer methods on all their fields, without the traditional tilling and hand irrigation of the control fields. In this new spin-off project, Reyes and his team will focus on helping smallholder farmers in Cambodia and Nepal market the vegetables grown with these water- and labor-saving practices, developing a brand that highlights their conservation principles. Project partners will include the Royal University of Agriculture of Cambodia, the Agricultural Development Denmark Asia organization, and International Development Enterprises (iDE).

Expanding tomato grafting for small businesses in Honduras and Guatemala: This new project led by James Nienhuis, of UW-Madison, grows from previous work first evaluating tomato and chili varieties, then producing vegetable seed locally with women farmers. This new project will evaluate grafted tomatoes for local conditions and provide training to women farmers for small nursery businesses, with local partners at Catholic Relief Services, Zamorano Panamerican Agricultural School, and the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola. The team will also include Horticulture Innovation Lab partners at The Ohio State University who have trained African farmers in vegetable grafting.

Irrigation solutions for off-season vegetables in Uganda: For this project, farmer groups will participate in a “co-innovation” process that will focus on small-scale irrigation for dry-season vegetable production, with leadership from Kate Scow of UC Davis. The idea to focus on irrigation came from workshops held during a previous Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on farmer field schools and participatory agricultural extension models for vegetable growers in Uganda. The group has also received funding from Michigan State University’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation to build capacity in relation to irrigation, and will work on this new innovative irrigation project with Busitema University, National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI), Teso Women Development Initiatives (TEWDI) and other local partners.

Competitive grants, collaborative program

The competitive grant process began in August, when the program issued an open call for proposals from U.S. university researchers. One call for proposals about reducing postharvest losses was not funded, though the management team expects to move forward with work to improve postharvest practices later this year. Additional grants are being finalized for projects that will scale up use of proven horticultural tools and technologies.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture (or “Horticulture Innovation Lab”) builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program is one of 24 Feed the Future Innovation Labs funded by USAID, five of which are led by UC Davis. For more information about the Horticulture Innovation Lab, visit http://horticulture.ucdavis.edu.

This announcement originally appeared on the Horticulture Innovation Lab website.

About the photo at top: Kate Scow, soil science professor at UC Davis, met with farmers and research partners in Uganda recently to begin a newly funded project focused on small-scale irrigation for vegetable growers. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo/Amanda Crump, UC Davis)