DAVIS, California — USAID has chosen the University of California, Davis to conduct a global research program with the goal of lifting and keeping rural families out of poverty in developing countries. This new innovation lab is funded by Feed the Future, a government initiative is intended to address global hunger and food insecurity. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience (MRR) is an MRR innovation lab focused on alleviating poverty.
Backed by a five-year, $30 million USAID grant, the MRR Innovation Lab will study the root causes of poverty and food insecurity. At the same time, it will build and test methods for mitigating, adapting to and recovering from disasters like drought, flood and conflict. This research could heavily inform USAID’s work by ensuring that its investments will have a lasting impact even in situations when disaster might hold back progress. The MMR Innovation Lab is the latest addition of many labs at UC Davis funded by USAID.
Past Successes at UC Davis
The university has already been successful in agricultural endeavors. The Horticulture Innovation Lab has been working to reduce poverty in developing nations by advancing agricultural science. The lab mainly focuses on fruit and vegetable production, which provides vital nutrition in a well-balanced diet. Because many of those living in impoverished rural areas often rely on agriculture for a living, increasing food production often comes with a significant increase in income. In the past decade, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has helped 14,000 farmers improve their practices while providing agricultural training to more than 38,000 people in 30 countries.
Another success is the Climate Resilient Chickpea Innovation Lab, which focuses on the needs of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia and India. Here, chickpeas are widely produced and are considered be an essential component of food security because they provide both a source of income and protein. However, in both countries, variation in climate can have a drastic effect on crop yields. Due to the advent of climate-resilient chickpeas, developing countries are encouraging the growth and export of the legume. As the chickpea is exported to growing markets in South Asia, it is increasing incomes for poor farmers in parts of Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa.
A Focus on Resilience
The MRR Innovation Lab is heavily predicated on the concept of resilience, which is the “ability of people and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses,” according to UC Davis. Research has shown that development innovations, such as stress-tolerant seeds and low-cost loans, generate additional food and income. This prevents people from falling into poverty while “building a ladder” for those already living in poverty.
Greg Collins, the deputy assistant administrator at the USAID Bureau for Food Security, was based in Kenya during the drought emergency in 2011. At this time, the Horn of Africa experienced its worst drought in 60 years. The drought led to mass migration and malnourishment. According to the United Nations, the drought heavily impacted more than 10 million people in the region. This experience provided the basis for Collin’s perspective on resilience, which drastically changed how USAID perceives problems and seeks solutions.
Previously, Collins spent much of his life as a vulnerability analyst studying structural constraints. The concept of resilience led to a shift in focus to “assets and abilities and agency.” According to Collins, this has fundamentally changed how the USAID thinks. “Sources of resilience not only cut across different sectors […] they transcend sectors: women’s empowerment, social capital, aspiration,” Collins says. Collins points to the Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) initiative in Kenya as an example of how Innovation Labs have a direct impact on policy. The EDE initiative increased investment in education, health and nutrition to manage drought risks.
The MMR Innovation Lab has resulted in new insights and effective approaches to agriculture. The next step is to implement these findings in developing countries. By improving agricultural production, farmers can increase their income and food security at the same time.
– Adam Bentz