October 21, 2009 Davis

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 the University of California, 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.

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 said. “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.

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 the University of California, 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 a team of international horticultural and 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. 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.

Other key priorities will include developing and strengthening private-sector relationships, particularly related to markets and marketing, as well as improving local support for horticultural producers through short- and long-term student and professional training.

The results of research projects funded by the new horticulture program will be made available through a readily accessible database of information and training tools. All research projects in the program will include outreach and evaluation components to provide farmers, horticulturists, marketers and consumers in the developing world with the tools they need to improve their horticultural crop production, as well as their livelihoods, nutrition and health.

“Those improvements will translate into enhanced nutrition and human health, as well as improved social and economic conditions, for poor -- mostly rural -- communities, and especially for women in those communities” Voss said.

“By harnessing the research, training and outreach expertise of the land-grant universities in the U.S. to work with local developing country partners, we are confident that we can improve their knowledge generation and horticultural capabilities in much the same way that the land-grant system helped to revolutionize American agriculture,” he added.