Feeding the world’s future

posted on April 10, 2013 10:22am

Jim Kelly inspects harvested beans on a farm in the Gicumbi district of Rwanda. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz (view larger image)
Jim Kelly inspects harvested beans on a farm in the Gicumbi district of Rwanda. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz

Researchers at Michigan State University netted a $24.5 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development, continuing MSU’s long-term commitment to helping developing nations find sustainable and secure food sources.

The main objectives of USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Grain Legumes, led by MSU, will be to increase the productivity of beans and other grain legumes (cowpea, chickpea, etc.) by smallholder farmers and to enhance the nutritional quality of diets of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the United States.

“Beans and related legumes are critical crops in developing countries,” said Irvin Widders, MSU horticulture professor and director of the lab, formerly known as Pulse CRSP. “They are nutrient dense staple foods that help ensure household food and nutritional security while providing needed household income, especially for women, who are the principle producers of grain legumes in many regions of the world.”

The MSU program supports collaborative research and graduate student training between university researchers, agriculture research institutions and development organizations in developing countries to generate technologies that benefit farmers through consumers. Key areas include genetics, plant breeding, soil health, integrated pest management, human nutrition and marketing of edible grain legumes. Gender equity and climate change also will be addressed.

The latest award extends a more than 30-year partnership between USAID and MSU in international grain legume research and was recently featured on Spartans Will. 360.

“The lab will continue the incredible legacy of MSU’s commitment and scientific leadership,” Widders said. “We will tackle new changes resulting from population growth, climate change and persistent malnutrition, especially among young children and women around the world.”

USAID renewed its support due, in part, to the lab’s success in this field. In Central America, the introduction of improved high-yielding bean varieties with resistance to economically important viruses and the creation of community seed banks have provided more than 100,000 farmers access to quality seed of these varieties.

In Tanzania, an MSU-lead project is studying the effects of an extruded bean or cowpea food on the growth and immune system strength of more than 500 children who have tested positive for HIV.

In Mozambique and Angola, MSU agriculture economists have helped smallholder farmers gain access to more profitable markets for their beans, increasing family income, especially of women.

For more information on this program, which is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Presidential Initiative, visit http://pulsecrsp.msu.edu/. (Video of Jim Kelly.)