Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Knowledge Management: Online and Offline Tools for Global Success

When a carousel turns, its rolling seats and cycling gears are only able to function due to a single, stable center. Similarly, a dependable center is crucial for the success of development work, especially when what’s moving around it are ever-evolving and changing factors related to food security.

One of the benchmarks of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is its reliance on multiple and varying methods to holistically approach pests and diseases, which is why over its quarter of a century-long history mitigating crop threats in developing countries, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management has generated an arsenal of knowledge management tools.

One of the program’s more discreet tools for successful knowledge management is the search for and acceptance of leverage funding. Leverage funding is any source of money the Innovation Lab for IPM is awarded in addition to the primary funds granted by USAID. This additional funding, which varies in amount, allows for the program to pursue activities that core USAID funds may not be allotted for, further reaching new audiences around the globe.

For example, in 2017, the Innovation Lab received $50,000 from the Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech in order to conduct an impact assessment on two of the program’s most beneficial technologies to date, Trichoderma and coco-peat. Both Trichoderma and coco-peat are naturally-occurring elements that promote healthy plant growth; throughout Asia and Africa, their implementation has not only helped protect crops from limiting factors, but increased job opportunities, especially for women.

Meanwhile, in 2016, the program was awarded $5,000 from the president of Haramaya University in Ethiopia, where the Innovation Lab has a project controlling the spread of a dangerous invasive weed, Parthenium hysterophorus. The award allowed the Innovation Lab to build and establish a plastic house for raising Parthenium seedlings in a protective area, increasing accessibility for students and faculty multiplying natural enemies of the weed.

Over the years, the amount and purpose of certain leverage funds has varied — it has ranged from FAO funding to present program activities in non-host countries like Egypt and Algeria, to funding from a lab in Saudia Arabia, to more local funding from Virginia Tech — but the utilization of leverage funding has consistently animated relationship networks key to the Innovation Lab’s ability to share knowledge with new communities. Not only that, leverage funding is a major vote of support that sparks project momentum.

“We gain unique insight when we use leverage funds,” said Muni Muniappan, director of the Innovation Lab. “Working with new and fresh resources always encourages us to think about how IPM technologies could grow to be more universal.”

While collaborating with experts around the world is relationally beneficial, travel in itself could be an obstacle without a management system in place. A knowledge management tool that has been vital to the Innovation Lab’s progress over the years is the establishment of a travel portal.

In partnership with Virginia Tech’s Biocomplexity Institute (now at the University of Virginia), the Innovation Lab created an online system that tracks all travel that uses program funds. Program collaborators from around the world are required to use the system to request, be approved for and report on travel. After each trip, collaborators upload a report that marks activities, results and recommendations from the trip before a certain deadline, which helps the lab manage goals for future trips.

Zara Shortt, the IPM Innovation Lab’s accountant, said that the portal has been instrumental to program coordination and organization.

“With over 30 different sub-budgets and their many collaborators,” she said, “the portal has helped to ensure all international travel is accounted for and reporting requirements are fulfilled. Tracking this information is imperative to the success of our project.”

A permanent record of travel also helps to avoid redundancy and encourages exploration of ideas that could provide more context and complexity to the IPM Innovation Lab’s central ambitions, and naturally, to trigger movement of the project’s personal carousel toward global food security.  

Written by Sara Hendery