Kelly Ann Izlar

University awarded $18 million for agriculture program in developing countries

Researchers show Ugandan tomato farmers how to identify a plant disease called bacterial wilt, which can be a serious problem for their crops. Photo by K. Izlar

Researchers show Ugandan tomato farmers how to identify a plant disease called bacterial wilt, which can be a serious problem for their crops. Photo by K. Izlar

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 12, 2015 – Virginia Tech has won a new $18 million grant for a program working to raise the standard of living of people around the world through environmentally sound agricultural practices.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab (formerly Collaborative Research Support Program) for Integrated Pest Management, which works with farmers to find sustainable alternatives to pesticides, has been housed at Virginia Tech for the past 21 years.

The U.S. Agency for International Development recently announced that Virginia Tech would once again lead the program, a move that represents a strong vote of confidence in the work that has been ongoing since 1993.

“This program has been working on the ground with poor farmers, making a difference in their lives, and contributing to global food security,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for outreach and international affairs. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to learn from past challenges and build on our successes.”

The competitively awarded grant will allow the program to address new and emerging pest problems that plague farmers in the developing world, as well as model and manage the spread of invasive species. Scientists will also be investigating ways to preserve biodiversity and offset the agricultural consequences of climate change.

The new Innovation Lab, managed by Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development, will commit its core resources to two groups of countries, one in Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania) and one in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Nepal, and Bangladesh).

In Asia, the program will focus on rice in Burma and Cambodia and horticultural crops in Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In Nepal, researchers will map the effects of climate change on biodiversity and emphasize integrated pest management on grains.

The projects in eastern Africa will be dedicated to reducing malnutrition through increased production and preservation of staple crops like maize, wheat, and chickpea in Ethiopia; rice and maize in Tanzania; and high-value vegetables in Kenya and Tanzania. The program will tackle pest infestations in countries where farmers with limited resources are predicted to be heavily affected by climate change.

“We’ve been forming partnerships, conducting research, and getting to know farmers all over the world for the past two decades,” said Rangaswamy “Muni” Muniappan, who has led the Innovation Lab since 2006. “Our work has shown great results, and we look forward to continuing the fight against hunger.”

As in all the previous phases of the program, U.S. researchers will strengthen and forge new partnerships with international colleagues and work directly with farmers. But the core tenets will remain unchanged: The program will strive to reduce pesticide use, increase food production, improve health, and make a difference in the lives of poor people in developing countries.

“A small innovation in a farmer’s life can have a huge impact on their family and on succeeding generations,” Muniappan said.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 225 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $496 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

This press release was originally issued through Virginia Tech.