MANHATTAN, KANSAS, U.S. — U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded Kansas State University $21.9 million to continue funding three research labs that work to end global hunger and poverty.
The labs include the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Sorghum and Millet, known as SMIL; the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss, known as PHL; and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics.
In 2013, USAID awarded three innovation labs to KSU through the Feed the Future initiative, which is the U.S. government’s effort to end global hunger. KSU won the awards through a competitive process against programs across the United States.
“These awards don’t happen by accident,” said Jennifer “Vern” Long, the acting director for the office of agriculture, research and policy in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. “We have a very high bar for extending programs, and it’s really a reflection of the innovative approach that these programs have taken and how they bring the best of U.S. science to bear on these global challenges.”
Each of those projects had an initial five-year award. USAID is now adding $14 million over five years for SMIL, $3 million over three years for PHL, and $4.9 million for five years to wheat genomics.
In 2014, KSU also was awarded $32 million for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Sustainable Intensification. That project could be considered for renewal next year.
“Agricultural research takes a long time,” said Timothy Dalton, director of SMIL. “What we’ve done is position ourselves in the first phase for important achievements that we will fine tune and bring home to farmers in the next phase.”
SMIL focuses on increasing the resilience of small-scale sorghum and millet producers in the face of climate change. Over the past five years, SMIL has worked in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mali, Niger and Senegal.
“In the second phase, we will also look for new opportunities to diversify and strengthen our program. We are in the process of developing those ideas right now,” Dalton said.
PHL has worked to improve global food security by reducing post-harvest losses in stored crops, such as grains, oilseeds, legumes and seeds. The lab was especially active in addressing issues related to aflatoxin in corn but director Jagger Harvey said the project does a lot more.
“We’ve also worked on pesticides and pesticide alternatives that have been very successful,” he said. “Some of our other projects include drying, storage, developing moisture meters, agricultural education and research capacity.
Jesse Poland, the director of KSU’s innovation lab for wheat genomics, said his team has made important advancements in using genomic tools to accelerate wheat breeding.
“If you look at the standard breeding process, it takes anywhere from 10 to 12 years to go from crossing wheat varieties to releasing and deploying a new variety,” Poland said.
Using information from the recent release of the wheat genome, he said KSU researchers are using genomic tools to build prediction models on yield, disease resistance and other traits.
“We can know how that variety will perform by year 3 or 4 of the breeding process,” Poland said. “If we can predict those accurately, we can really accelerate the selection and release of better wheat varieties.”