The Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) public meeting on Jan. 30 in Washington, DC highlighted U.S. university student engagement including the Feed the Future Innovation Labs’ for Collaborative Research more than 30 years of experience and impact in higher education capacity building.
BIFAD Chair Brady Deaton (University of Missouri) and recently appointed BIFAD member Waded Cruzado (Montana State University), recently connected with the Innovation Labs at their research sites in Ghana and Cambodia. Deaton, who travelled to Ghana in July for the Innovation Labs’ annual meeting on the themes of agriculture and nutrition, scaling agricultural technologies, and developing collaborative partnerships, remarked that this meeting showed him firsthand how new international partnerships are formed. In December, Cruzado traveled to the Fourth Annual International Conservation Agriculture Conference in Southeast Asia in Battambang, Cambodia, co-sponsored by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM). After meeting with SANREM researchers and learning about their project on conservation agriculture and food security in Cambodia, Cruzado noted how impressed she was with SANREM’s integration of gender into their research.
During the panel on U.S. university student engagement in global food security, Beth Mitcham (University of California, Davis), Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture, spoke about the long-term impacts of the CRSPs and Innovation Labs, who have collectively supported over 4,000 long-term degree students since 1978. These programs engage U.S. and developing country students directly in international agriculture research activities, while creating robust networks of agricultural scientists around the world. Mitcham was joined on the panel by Patrick Tracy of ACDI/VOCA who highlighted the successes of their Volunteer Service Learning Corps program which provides short-term volunteer opportunities for U.S. graduate students.
The Horticulture Innovation Lab’s student-developed Trellis Fund was featured throughout the meeting as an example of student leadership and innovation. The Trellis Fund not only gives U.S. graduate students the chance to provide short-term technical assistance in developing countries, linking them with local university students and NGOs, it is also managed by Horticulture Innovation Lab students.
Elana Peach-Fine, a former Horticulture Innovation Lab graduate student leader who holds an M.S. in International Agricultural Programs and a M.S. in Plant Pathology from UC, Davis, was recognized by BIFAD for her scholarship and leadership. She was given the BIFAD Award for Scientific Excellence in a Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research. Upon accepting her award, Peach-Fine said, “The structure of the [Trellis Fund] replicates the collaborative Innovation Lab model on a smaller scale. Not only will these students work with their organizations now, but they will carry their experiences into their future in academia, industry and even international development.” Peach-Fine is currently an analyst on agricultural projects in Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Ecuador, through the UC, Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ International Programs Office.
Leadership from USAID’s Bureau for Food Security (BFS) also made remarks about Feed the Future’s progress over the last year and commented on the restructuring of BFS’s international agricultural research portfolio. There are now 23 Innovation Labs including ten Innovation Labs for Collaborative Research. Rob Bertram, Director of BFS’ Office of Agricultural Research and Policy, remarked that these changes were informed by the BIFAD Review of the Collaborative Research Support (CRSP) model. The panel remarked that this year there will be an increased focus on nutrition-sensitive agriculture as well as transformational technology.
Two new reports on human and institutional capacity development were also announced during the meeting including the BIFAD-commissioned report on Human and Institutional Capacity Development and the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities’ report “African Higher Education: Opportunities for Transformative Change for Sustainable Development.” APLU’s report will feature two broad recommendations for USAID’s development and management of the agency’s higher education portfolio, including concentrating USAID investments and intervening at the institutional level. Both reports are slated to be made available to the public in Spring 2014.