New horticulture program to span globe

Intent on helping the world’s poorest people break out of a persistent cycle of poverty by producing and marketing high-value crops, the U.S. Agency for International Development has selected UC Davis to lead a new $15 million, five-year global Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program.

The new program will select and support U.S. and international partners as they undertake research, training, curriculum-development and outreach activities in the neediest countries, most located in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and Latin America.

Hunger, malnutrition

The collaborative research effort will be responsible for developing and leading a broad range of activities that demonstrate how horticulture can help reduce hunger and malnutrition, and raise the incomes of the rural poor.

“This is not an easy task,” said Jim Hill, associate dean of International Programs in UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “In seizing this opportunity we are committing ourselves to making sure that the rural poor have access to appropriate technology, markets, resources, training and supportive government policies.

“We are excited about the opportunity that USAID has provided,” Hill added. “Our focus now is on jump-starting the program so that we can fund research and implementation projects in the near future.”

The new program will be housed in the college’s Department of Plant Sciences under the leadership of Professor emeritus Ron Voss, a recognized extension specialist in the area of vegetable production and small farms.

Developing countries

There are eight other existing USAID Collaborative Research Support Programs around the nation, including a global livestock program led by UC Davis. Like the older programs, the new horticulture program will provide funding to foster collaboration among U.S. land-grant colleges and universities and institutions in developing countries.

(Land-grant institutions, including UC, were designated in the mid-1800s by the federal government to focus on teaching agriculture, science and engineering.)

The newly created horticulture program will address priorities that were identified in the USAID-sponsored Global Horticulture Assessment, conducted and written in 2004-2005 by development experts led by Patrick Brown, a UC Davis plant science professor.

Voss noted that in the developing world, women provide as much as 90 percent of the labor for production of horticultural crops, yet often have limited access to resources, receive lower wages and have less stable jobs than men. Gender equity will, therefore, be one of the overarching themes of the new horticulture program. Other areas of emphasis will be innovative technologies and information accessibility.

Research topics will include improving germplasm, or plant genetic material; local plant varieties; and sustainable production methods in horticultural crops that will ensure success in the marketplace.

Postharvest losses

Because as much as 40 percent of the food grown in the target countries never reaches the table, there will be a special focus on reducing postharvest losses. Training aimed at decreasing the incidence of food-borne illnesses also will be provided.

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Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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