Posts Tagged: Horticulture Innovation Lab
Connecting 9,000 rural households in Guatemala with improved water management and climate-smart agriculture strategies is the goal of a new project led by a team at UC Davis, to ultimately increase food security and reduce poverty in Guatemala's Western Highlands.
“The opportunity to impact so many farmers' lives on this scale is exciting,” said Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “We're taking lessons learned from our previous research — in Guatemala, Honduras and Cambodia — and building a team to help more small-scale farmers apply our findings and successfully use these innovative practices.”
The new project is part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The project represents an additional $3.4 million investment in the UC Davis-led Horticulture Innovation Lab by the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Guatemala.
The project's international team also includes representatives from Kansas State University; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; the Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford in Guatemala; Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala; and the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras.
“The learning shared between these three U.S. universities and the universities in Honduras and Guatemala will be enriching for all of the institutions involved,” said Manuel Reyes, research professor at Kansas State University who is part of the team. “I find it satisfying that these academic institutions will be investing intellectually in marginalized groups in Guatemala's Western Highlands — and in turn, learning from them too.”
Helping youth envision a future in agriculture
By partnering with local youth groups and agricultural schools, the team will better prepare students for jobs in commercial agriculture and agricultural extension with knowledge of climate-resilient conservation and water management practices.
“Our local team is training youth as entrepreneurs, to see agriculture as an economic opportunity instead of just back-breaking work,” said Meagan Terry, UC Davis junior specialist who is managing the project in Guatemala for the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “They can envision a future in agriculture, with innovative ways to create value-added products or grow high-value crops for niche markets.”
As rainfall patterns vary with climate change, farmers in this region are expected to face increased competition for water. Practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and conservation agriculture will become more necessary for small-scale farmers.
Climate-smart lessons from conservation agriculture, drip irrigation
In previous research, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has found that combining drip irrigation with conservation agriculture practices can successfully grow vegetables on small plots of land, without significant yield reductions. These practices improve soil structure, moisture retention and soil health.
Additionally, women farmers who participated in the Horticulture Innovation Lab studies in Cambodia, Honduras and Guatemala favored using these practices for another important reason: reduced labor in relation to controlling weeds, vegetable bed preparation and manual watering.
“I dream for many women, youth and their families, that their lives will be better off because of 'MasRiego' and the science behind this work,” Reyes said. “As for the research, we are learning how to improve this suite of practices so they can be tailor fitted globally. I am convinced that if this picks up, steep sloping lands can be farmed with the soil quality not being degraded — but even being enriched.”
These lessons, as well as findings from the program's “Advancing Horticulture” report about horticultural sector growth in Central America, lay the foundation for this new project.
Curious about partnering with the Horticulture Innovation Lab? The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds partnerships between agricultural researchers in the United States and researchers in developing countries, to conduct fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program currently has three research grant opportunities for U.S. researchers: one focused on tomatoes, another on apricots, and a third on integrated crop-livestock systems.
In many developing countries, more than half of all fruits and vegetables are never eaten, but instead are lost, damaged or spoiled after harvest. These “postharvest” losses can mean that farmers need to sell their fresh produce as soon as it is harvested for whatever price they can get, before they lose the crops that represent investments of labor, water, and agricultural inputs. Improving how fruits and vegetables are handled after harvest can significantly prolong freshness — and cooling is key.
“The three most important aspects of postharvest handling are: temperature, temperature, temperature,” said Michael Reid, UC Cooperative Extension postharvest specialist who works with the Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC Davis. “In the developing world in particular, affordable cooling technology is mostly absent.”
Cooling can be expensive — even for American farmers
As a farmer in upstate New York, Ron Khosla knew this problem too well. His vegetable crop was spoiling too quickly, but he could not afford to buy a walk-in cooler for his small farm. So he invented a solution: a small electrical device he called a CoolBot that tricks an air conditioner into getting colder without freezing over, turning a well-insulated room into a cold room at lower costs than refrigeration.
“I was hoping for a cheap, DIY solution that I could maintain. But mostly I just needed to keep my leafy greens and strawberries cold,” Khosla said.
Khosla's CoolBot invention caught the eye of postharvest researchers, including Reid, who saw it in action on farms in California and decided to try using it in developing countries too.
CoolBot goes global with the Horticulture Innovation Lab
In one of his first projects with the Horticulture Innovation Lab (a program led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development), Reid partnered with agricultural scientists from Uganda, Honduras and India to test the CoolBot in their climates. The four scientists also tested different local materials as insulation for each of the cold rooms.
Since that first project, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has tested CoolBots for farmer cold storage in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and Honduras.
Jane Ambuko of the University of Nairobi is another Horticulture Innovation Lab partner who has worked with the CoolBot. She received a grant to pilot this technology with mango farmers for a program called the Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine. Her project was featured on an NTV Food Friday news segment about the CoolBot earlier this month.
“I see the CoolBot making a whole lot of difference,” Ambuko said during a TEDxNairobi speech. “But for it to make that desired difference we have to make it cost-effective and affordable for the smallholder farmers.”
Adapting, troubleshooting and scaling up
In many places, the most expensive part of a CoolBot-equipped cold room is the structure for the insulated room, but both Reid and Khosla expect foam building materials to become more widely available and affordable.
In the meantime, Khosla's small business has been growing — selling to not only farmers, but also florists, micro-brewers, and other artisanal food businesses. Now with six employees, the company has sold more than 27,500 CoolBots in 51 countries.
“I'm thrilled and so grateful to be a part of helping lots of people. Working with USAID has gotten us known in other countries, and I'm looking forward to the day when we have enough in-roads in India and Africa where we can work directly with farmers there,” Khosla said. “People didn't believe the CoolBots worked at first. But now we get the most amazing letters from people whose businesses have doubled or quadrupled. Good postharvest care makes such a difference. Once they try it, then they see.”
A previous version of this article appeared in the newsletter for Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, and also in the Horticulture Innovation Lab blog.
Event - Sustainable solutions and extending California's agricultural expertise to the world: The UC Global Food Initiative and UC Blum Centers will host a Global Food Summit on Sustainable Solutions, May 5-6 at UC Irvine. Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and UC Cooperative Extension postharvest pomologist at UC Davis, will be speaking about technology transfer for horticulture-related technologies such as the CoolBot, seed drying beads, UC Davis-designed chimney solar dryer, pest-exclusion nets, and other tools the program adapts to the needs of farmers in developing countries. She will also be on a panel with two other UC Davis-based directors of Feed the Future Innovation Labs (UC Davis leads five Feed the Future Innovation Labs with funding from USAID — more than any other university). More info about this event.
Each year on Oct. 16, the world takes a moment to raise global awareness of agriculture, hunger, and food issues. World Food Day officially marks the anniversary of the creation of the UN's Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945, and nowadays it aligns with other global events such as this week's World Food Prize activities in Iowa.
Food and agriculture are central to what UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) professionals deal with every day. We're elbows-deep in solving specific problems like pest identification, childhood nutrition in schools, drought-tolerant plant breeding and spreading sustainable agricultural practices.
World Food Day is a day for all of us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Here are some ways that UC ANR faculty are raising awareness on World Food Day this year. How will you join them?
If you're near UC Davis, two free events invite the public to mark World Food Day:
America's Farm-to-Fork Capital Speakers Series offers participants lunch and an in-depth discussion of the connections between soil health, farm health, healthy foods, and the gut microbiome. These themes are particularly pertinent this World Food Day, as it is also the International Year of Soils. Author Daphne Miller will speak about her book "Farmacology" and then join a panel of academics from UC ANR's Agricultural Experiment Station, specifically Kate Scow and Bruce German, moderated by Tom Tomich. The event will be 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Friday, at the Buehler Alumni Center on the UC Davis campus. Event details and registration
The Grand Opening of the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center will send participants home with a souvenir vegetable seedling and a closer look at some of the technologies and crops that UC academics work with in developing countries. UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist and pomologist Elizabeth Mitcham is also the director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and will be joined by Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), UC Davis CA&ES Dean Helene Dillard, and others to discuss the work that UC Davis and its international partners do to help small-scale farmers in developing countries. This event is particularly pertinent as this year's theme for World Food Day focuses on how agriculture can break the cycle of rural poverty. The event will be at 2 – 3:30 p.m., Friday, on Solano Field, near Nelson Hall on the UC Davis campus. Event details and information about the new demonstration center
Online this week, you can hear UC ANR academics Dan Sumner and Christine Stewart speaking on a panel at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, broadcast online via a live stream. They will be speaking 1:30 p.m. PDT, Wednesday, on a panel with UC Davis' Roger Beachy about the UC Davis World Food Center, “Launching a New Initiative - Food for a Healthy World.”
Farm advisors: They're the local hand on the long arm of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). They apply cutting-edge research to problems facing their farming neighbors, often adapting practices and research results to local conditions. UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisors provide locally adapted science to local farmers.
So it might come as a surprise that some farm advisors got their start in agriculture nowhere near their backyards or their neighbor's fields. In fact, more than a few farm advisors fell in love with helping farmers while they were overseas.
Mark Lundy, for example. As the UCCE agronomy advisor in Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties, Lundy works with farmers on field crops such as tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat, sunflower, beans, and an assortment of other vegetable crops. At a recent meeting for tomato growers, he presented about tools that might help farmers better apply fertilizers, with sensors adjusting recommendations for each individual field. Does it get more “local” than that?
But as a UC Davis grad student, Lundy traveled to Malawi for a few weeks to help extension agents there teach farmers modern tomato-growing practices — as part of a Trellis project with the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
Lundy wrote about his experience in Malawi recently on the Feed the Future website. He describes setting out, eager to put “book learning” to practical use, and eventually realizing how valuable local knowledge can be for agriculture. While in Malawi, Lundy worked with a local agronomist named Chimwemwe:
“Seeing Chimwemwe's extension program in action underscored to me that agriculture is simultaneously (even paradoxically) a global and a local enterprise. Many of the fundamentals of cropping systems do apply broadly across diverse agricultural landscapes, which is what permitted the productive conversations and collaboration between us. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for a nuanced understanding of the particular contours and constraints of any given region or farm.”
Though Lundy had years of formal education in agronomy, he witnessed how Chimwemwe's relationships and local understanding made him a “sharper tool” when it came to helping local farmers.
“Observing Chimwemwe in action inspired me to leverage the regionally specific knowledge I had gained about California agriculture during my graduate education and try to become a similarly sharp tool in my own backyard,” Lundy wrote.
You can read the rest of the article, “How a Global Trip Inspired this Californian to Focus Locally” on the website for Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative. The initiative brings American ingenuity and expertise to bear in the global fight against hunger. Several agricultural research programs at UC Davis and UC Riverside fall under the banner of Feed the Future — including the Horticulture Innovation Lab, led by UCCE specialist Beth Mitcham.
Author: Brenda Dawson
As a graduate student, Mark Lundy (back, left) worked with Chimwemwe (second from right) and colleagues in Malawi on a tomato production project with the Horticulture Innovation Lab.