USAID Awards UC Davis $15 Million for Global Horticulture Research Program

Horticulture Innovation Lab Aims to Empower Smallholder Farmers

Photo of members of the Horticulture Innovation lab in village in Bangladesh
Amrita Mukherjee of the UC Davis Horticulture Innovation Lab trains village leaders in Bangladesh about handling practices for vegetables after harvest. (UC Davis)

The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide a base $15 million investment over the next five years, with up to $34.5 million total funding possible, to support a global research program led by the University of California, Davis, that advances fruit and vegetable production, handling, and consumption.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture will work with and promote local leadership in communities across the globe to advance horticultural and social innovations for nutritional and financial security. This competitive five-year program was first awarded to UC Davis in 2009 and renewed in 2014.

“Horticulture offers big health, economic and environmental benefits,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, program director and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences. “UC Davis will be leading an outstanding global consortium that will be able to make big impacts on developing sustainable, local expertise and innovative technical and social solutions to empower horticulture producers and their communities.”

UC Davis will be joined in a consortium with Florida A&M University, Michigan State University, Texas A&M, and World Vegetable Center, along with subject matter experts from Penn State University and Making Cents International, to help manage this program.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab will focus their efforts in West Africa, East Africa, South/Southeast Asia and Central America. At the forefront of their research will be the development of environmentally sustainable, market-oriented production and post-harvest handling methods that provide smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in fruit and vegetable value chains more income, as well as improved access to fruits and vegetables to better nourish their families and communities.

Locally led, globally supported

Within the UC Davis-led consortium are partners and specialists with expertise in horticulture, agronomics, agri-sociology, agribusiness and agri-policy. The Horticulture Innovation Lab will convene these global, regional and local experts to determine research needs in each geographical area. Once these research needs are defined, the team will emphasize a holistic, locally led approach to build community resilience and to support inclusivity. 

“We asked ourselves, ‘how do you effect change in a system now that overcomes immediate challenges and those yet to present themselves?’” said Erin McGuire, associate director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “We need to understand the implications of our projects and to work closely with local leaders and community members to ensure a pipeline of appropriate innovations now and in the future.”

Building on fertile grounds

Fruits and vegetables provide vital nutrients for healthy communities, empower women and youth, and improve overall sustainability in production systems — this was the central tenet informing all of the work that the Horticulture Innovation Lab did during its first 10 years.

As a direct result of the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s work, more than 750 horticultural technologies are now available for transfer and scaling in communities across the globe. More than 32,000 farmers are applying or using these technologies as a result of the lab and its network’s collective work, and more than 13,000 hectares of land are under new management practices.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab produced a number of innovative technologies, including a chimney solar dryer that more efficiently dries and preserves fruits and vegetables for long-term storage, and a simple tool called the DryCard that lets farmers know if food is safe for dry storage.

Additionally, researchers facilitated the adoption of improved agricultural methods, such as drip irrigation in Guatemala, and conservation agriculture for vegetable production and a packinghouse in Cambodia, that led to climate and social resilience.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is a part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s initiative to combat global hunger and poverty. It brings partners together to help some of the world’s poorest countries harness the power of agriculture and entrepreneurship to jump-start their economies and create new opportunities.

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