A partnership between university scientists and a private technology company has sprouted both new concepts and new tools that can help vegetable farmers in developing countries access better seeds.
For many smallholder farmers, buying and trading vegetable seeds can be risky. The benefits of purchasing seed can be high, with improved crop varieties offering disease resistance, increased vigor and improved taste. But the risks of receiving poor-quality seed are also significant, particularly in tropical climates. Seed will deteriorate rapidly if it is not properly dried and stored. The resulting poor germination reduces yields, which for vegetable farmers can mean staggered harvests and inconsistent crop quality.
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.
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)
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.
“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
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.
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)