Q&A With the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab
As part of its September focus on research for agricultural productivity, Agrilinks is showcasing the work of the Feed the Future Innovation Labs this month. The Innovation Labs use collaborative research to develop and scale sustainable technologies to feed a growing population with nutritious, safe foods. These labs form a network of more than 70 U.S. colleges and universities working with developing country partners to pioneer solutions that boost productivity, combat emerging threats and benefit farmers and food producers both at home and abroad.
This interview with the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab is the third in a series on how Innovation Labs are helping to drive productivity gains needed for a food-secure future. Click here to read the first post and here to read the second post in this series.
What is your Lab working on right now?
Our Lab has a very broad research portfolio of 13 different projects that encompass the length of the sorghum and millet value chains. They range from genomics and genetics work, to breeding activities around highly desired characteristics (Striga resistance, nutritional qualities, drought resistance, etc.) to pest management and agronomic practices, to end use and value added products.
What result or finding are you most proud/excited about?
We have a few, but the ones that are currently the farthest along would be the parasitoid wasps being used to target the millet head miner and millet stem borer in West Africa, sorghum’s functionality in baked goods in Ethiopia and the future of value-added food products in West Africa through incubation centers training local entrepreneurs.
What have you learned that has gone against the conventional wisdom in this space?
I think something that has become exceptionally clear in our work with our many partners across continents, countries and institutions is that the human resources within the target countries that many Innovation Labs are working in are immense and very often underestimated. Our partner teams located within the national programs and universities have such an incredible passion and understanding of the issues at hand. They are also very aware of the challenges they face and are constantly tapping into their knowledge and creativity to find solutions to their constraints. We have seen numerous instances in which a relatively modest amount of funding coupled with an engaged, long-term collaboration has been a key element in supporting very substantial capacity development in a target country. Those long-term investments are, in my opinion, an absolutely necessity for sustainable solutions that are driven by internal players.
How can Agrilinks community of researchers and implementers benefit from/connect with what you’re doing?
As mentioned, a key element of impactful research for development is in the area of building capacity within the target countries to identify, prioritize and address their most pressing challenges. Having a space where other researchers and implementers can see the various activities coming out of our Innovation Lab offers the opportunity of creating points of entry for them to potentially become contributors to some of these issues/questions, and vice versa. I think simply creating exposure of the different programs to each other can create new and improved collaborations, as well as help disseminate new ideas and approaches to common issues.
A special thanks to Kira Everhart-Valentin for conducting this interview with us!