UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Reducing the negative effects of pests, diseases and weeds on crops in a climate-changed world is the goal of a multi-agency team led by Penn State and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the organization’s initiative to end world hunger. The award was announced today (November 6) by Administrator Samantha Power of the United States Agency for International Development at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
The grant – up to $ 39 million in total over five years – will establish the Feed the future Innovation Lab for Current and Emerging Threats to Crops at Penn State. The lab will serve as a venue for a broad coalition of experts from around the world to collaborate on new approaches to monitor, predict and combat current and emerging threats to crops. The team will focus its efforts on West Africa, East / Southern Africa, South / Southeast Asia and Central America.
âEnding world hunger is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time,â said Lora Weiss, senior vice president of research at Penn State. âThe Feed the Future program brings together partners from various sectors and the US government to help countries that are ripe to transform the way their food systems operate. The new innovation lab, in combination with Penn State’s wealth of experience in developing technologies and practices to manage crop pests, will allow the University to help advance this goal.
David Hughes, Dorothy Foehr Huck and the J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Global Food Security and Professor of Entomology and Biology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Eberly College of Science, will be the program director.
âPests, diseases and weeds are chronic burdens that prevent small farmers from achieving economic prosperity,â said Hughes. âIncreased trade and climate change are increasing this burden, necessitating innovative research for development that is rapidly deployed in farmers’ fields. “
Like the other Feed the Future Innovation Labs, the innovation lab for current and emerging threats to crops will focus on research to support development. In the first year, the team will conduct a large corn trial to test the effectiveness of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, such as parasitoid wasps to control fall armyworm, organic -herbicides to control Striga weed, clean seeds that are resistant to viral diseases, and intercrops and climate-smart agriculture to improve crop health. IPM is an environmentally friendly strategy for pest management that uses a variety of techniques such as biological control and habitat manipulation. The team will then assess the deployment of an IPM package to 1,000 farms in 10 counties. This assessment will include an economic analysis and a gender / youth assessment to assess the elements of diversity, equity and inclusion that are central to USAID’s approach.
“Over the years, scientists at the college have made significant contributions to research on IPM practices,” said Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. âIt will be encouraging to see the Innovation Lab build on and apply some of this knowledge to help small farmers quickly solve pest problems without using large amounts of expensive and potentially damaging pesticides. “
In addition, the team will conduct research aimed at developing tools for increased surveillance of viral and fungal diseases of tubers and wheat, which are important food crops. Cassava is a prime example; it is the largest source of calories in Africa and a vital crop for adaptation to climate change due to its drought tolerance. Other important tubers are Irish potatoes and the favorite sweet potatoes of African farmers.