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Innovations Key to Hunger Reduction, USAID Chief Says
November 1, 2013

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer
31 October 2013

Two women hold orange-flesh sweet potatoes
Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, smallholder farmers are introduced to high-value crops like orange-flesh sweet potatoes that can boost household food security and increase incomes.

Washington — Agricultural products and technologies recently employed in low-income countries around the world have significantly reduced hunger and poverty, says the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“It is now possible to imagine a world without widespread hunger and malnutrition,” Rajiv Shah told students, scientists, government officials and farmers meeting October 30 at the Feeding the Planet Summit at George Washington University in Washington. The event was co-sponsored by USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and corporate partners.

Shah highlighted five technologies that have made it possible for small-scale farmers to increase their incomes and improve nutrition in their communities.

The first is an orange-flesh sweet potato enhanced with high levels of vitamin A. This new variety of tuber has enabled consumers to get more than 50 percent of their daily vitamin A requirement by substituting the sweeter-tasting and softer variety for the traditional white-flesh sweet potato.

The second technological advance is climate-resilient crops that offer “tremendous opportunity” for farmers to produce more food and eliminate famine where there are floods, droughts or other risks. If there are more robust varieties of crops in parts of the world where diets depend in those crops, for instance, “we can help eliminate weather-based famine and malnutrition,” Shah said. “We can reduce what we commonly call the hunger season,” he added.

A third technological advance that has helped reduce hunger is urea deep placement, or placing fertilizer briquettes under topsoil close to seeds. The technique has produced up to 70 percent more yields where it has been deployed while reducing by as much as 50 percent the amount of nitrogen required. This saves farmers fertilizer costs, Shah said.

The fourth newer technology is easy-to-use, nutritional, therapeutic foods that are saving the lives of children during their first 1,000 days — from the beginning of the mother’s pregnancy through the child’s first two years of life. The first 1,000 days “can change the lifetime brain development of that child by improving the child’s access to basic nutrients,” Shah said, citing enhanced products known as Nutributter® and Plumpy‘nut that can be blended with other foods.Shah said a complement to these technologies is one that nearly all small-scale farms already own — a mobile phone. Farmers use phones to check market prices for their products and prices of seeds and fertilizer, Shah said. They also use phones to communicate with each other and to access the advice of agricultural scientists who may be thousands of kilometers away, he added.


Shah announced that USAID, through the U.S. Feed the Future program, will create 10 new innovation labs in partnership with U.S. universities and their global collaborators. Some of the universities participating in labs, which will focus primarily on innovations that can help smallholder producers boost incomes and nutrition, are the University of Georgia, Kansas State University, the University of California-Davis, the University of California-Riverside, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas-El Paso.

“Building upon a strong history of research collaboration, these new Feed the Future Innovation Labs will draw on the very best research, extension and education strengths of the U.S. and global university community to improve nutrition, end hunger and help eradicate extreme poverty around the world,” Shah said. Feed the Future is the United States global hunger and food security initiative.

“We believe that the power of American innovation applied thoughtfully in coordination with our international partners and focused fundamentally on small-scale producers can come together and change the face of poverty and hunger,” he said.

The new labs are part of the Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Center launched in 2012 to support research aimed at transforming agricultural production systems through “sustainable intensification” — or producing more food in an environmentally sensitive manner that ensures access to nutritious and safe foods, creates supportive policies and addresses the challenges of climate change and natural resource scarcity, USAID said.