Virginia Tech has won a total of $1.59 million for three federal contracts to continue agricultural research in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nepal.
The awards represent a vote of confidence in development work that has been ongoing since 1993. All awards are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“In the years since we began our work in these regions,” says Muni Muniappan, director of the program that manages the grants, “globalization, increased human mobility, and climate change have all contributed to an increase in threats posed by invasive pests. By tackling these issues, we strengthen humankind’s ability to feed itself.”
The latest award is for work in the lowlands and mid-hills areas of western Nepal on a project that helps women farmers grow healthier produce, earning them higher market sales. With the extra income, farmers are sending their children to school, building their own houses, and saving.
The three-year, $500,000 award was made to Virginia Tech to support the work of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, a program dedicated to raising the standard of living of people around the world through environmentally sound agricultural practices. Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development manages the program.
In Bangladesh, an award of $191,000 will support the technology transfer of integrated pest management packages — sets of techniques that deal with pest problems for a given crop from the time of planting to the time of harvest.
The techniques are focused on the vegetable crops of country bean, bitter gourd, tomato, eggplant, pointed gourd, okra, and cabbage. Healthy vegetables bring top money at market, and are an important way that farmers can lift themselves out of poverty.
In Indonesia, a grant of $500,000 has allowed Virginia Tech’s 20-year-old research effort to pay for botanical pesticides (pesticides produced from plants) and mobile plant clinics.
A mobile plant clinic is a van equipped with microscopes, a generator, test tubes, and other lab paraphernalia. Researchers can take the van to rural areas far from the diagnostic resources of the project’s base camp in Bogor.
When farmers bring samples of infected plants to the van, extension agents can teach them to identify pests and diseases on such valuable vegetable crops as green onions, chili peppers, Chinese cabbage, and potatoes. Following the detection session, farmers receive guidance on environmentally sound techniques that can be used to combat crop-damaging pests and diseases.
The USAID mission in Indonesia has asked Virginia Tech researchers to expand their traditional work on eggplant, onions, tomato, crucifers, cucurbits, and sweet potato to also include the valuable export crops of coffee, cocoa, and citrus. To accomplish this, the mission has made available an extra $400,000.
“While many people believe that the problem of providing food for the world’s poor has been solved, the food riots in 2008 proved otherwise,” says Mike Bertelsen, interim director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, the unit managing the grants. “By working to provide food security, we are helping to create stability as well.”
In each country, the IPM Innovation Lab works with many local partners — NGOs, universities, and research institutes — to advance and disseminate agricultural research. Virginia Tech partners with scientists from Penn State, Ohio State, Washington State, and Clemson universities on the work in South and Southeast Asia.
Local partners include the NGOs International Development Enterprises, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development in Nepal; the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and Mennonite Central Committee in Bangladesh; and in Indonesia, Bogor Agricultural University, Sam Ratulangi University, Udayana University, the Indonesian Vegetable Research Institute, and the Indonesian Coffee and Cacao Research Institute.
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