Leaning into her tuktuk in Siem Reap, Eang Chakriya opens a cooler and takes out fresh wax gourds and other vegetables that have been carefully packed and chilled, showing them to a group of neighbors. Emblazoned on the tuktuk (a kind of motorized rickshaw) are images of farmers and the marketing motto, “Grown Right, Handled Right, Community Right.”
Chakriya sells nutritious vegetables directly to consumers in Cambodia as part of a farmers’ cooperative working with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, led by the University of California, Davis.
The project’s research team is examining incentives that help farmers improve their agriculture practices. The researchers’ hunch is that farmers will adopt conservation agriculture practices (or “Grown Right” practices) if the team also helps them to adopt two other types of profitable practices that will increase their success: improved postharvest handling techniques and novel marketing practices.
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.
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
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.
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.)
Most commonly used with field crops, conservation agriculture combines three practices that help farmers invest in soil health, specifically:
minimal soil disturbance (“no till”),
continuous mulch cover, and
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.
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.