Horticultural production can be a delicate process as young vegetable shoots are particularly vulnerable to attack by insects and disease. When integrated pest management (IPM) techniques are available and used in combination with improved seed and good cultivation and storage techniques, horticultural products can yield both nutritious food high in micro-nutrients and generate income for farm families when crops are marketed.
At a recent talk at USAID, the Program Directors of the Feed the Future Innovation Labs for Collaborative Research on Horticulture, Beth Mitcham, and on IPM, Muni Muniappan, teamed up with development practitioner Don Humpal from Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI) to share the benefits of investing in horticulture research to address Feed the Future goals including improving nutrition and income generation for smallholder farmers in developing countries. The latest monthly Ag Sector Council seminar on May 29th in Washington, DC was moderated by USAID Senior Agricultural Advisor John Bowman from the Bureau for Food Security.
Bowman noted that horticulture is a high priority for 14 of the USAID missions that are in Feed the Future priority countries. He stressed that in partnership with other actors, such as the private sector and NGOs, collaborative research on horticulture can generate innovative solutions and scale technologies to achieve Feed the Future goals of improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Both Mitcham and Muniappan described how the Innovation Labs’ applied research uses cutting-edge technologies and techniques to address constraints faced by smallholder farmers. Beth Mitcham reported that, for example, the Horticulture Innovation Lab is, testing the use of reusable drying beads to improve seed storage by reducing humidity levels, in partnership with Rhino Research Group, a private company in Thailand. Other technologies showing promise include the CoolBot™, a modified air conditioning system, which makes it possible for smallholders to create inexpensive cold storage units.
IPM interventions have been developed and refined over the past twenty years by the IPM Innovation Lab to improve seed production, mitigate the effects of plant viruses and pests, increase crop yield, and improve both the marketability and consumption of high value horticulture crops. An impact study found that an investment of US$50 million has resulted in US$ 750–US$1,750 million or 1:15–35 net benefit. One of these successful activities introduced an eggplant grafting technique to communities in Bangladesh to combat bacterial wilt. Muniappan reported that this project increased eggplant yield by 249% and increased income by 305%, with many of the beneficiaries being women.
Bringing a private sector perspective to the discussion, Don Humpal from Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), highlighted how DAI’s work is improving market linkages and the seasonality of supply through interventions like household processing, thermal processors, and nurseries. He also emphasized the need to bring technologies improving horticulture production, like the ones presented by the Innovation Labs, to scale given the benefits they can bring to smallholder farmers.