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University awarded grant to improve food security in Africa


BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 11, 2008 – Amid global concerns about food security, the U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Tech's Office of International Research, Education, and Development to improve agricultural productivity and ease trade barriers in Africa.

The African Food Security Initiative: quality food production, availability, and marketing will focus on enhancing production of staple food commodities, including the tomato — one of the most important cash crops for small-scale growers in Africa, and rice and maize — both major sources of dietary carbohydrates on the continent. The three-year project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade.

The project will address food security and trade issues in the sub-Saharan countries of Mali and Senegal in West Africa and Uganda in East Africa. Both Mali and Senegal have stable governments interested in addressing agricultural issues and trade constraints. In Senegal, the least self-sufficient country in West Africa for rice production, the government has committed to growing all of its own rice by 2015.

Uganda, part of the East Africa Community that also includes Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, has indicated that they are eager to strengthen trade locally and with the European Union, a major trading partner. Entebbe, Uganda’s international airport is an embarkation point for agricultural exports to Europe worth $25.5 million annually. By setting up pest diagnostic labs and developing human resources in plant health and inspection, the African Food Security Initiative will help assure European importers that food coming from Africa meets international safety standards.

Techniques developed by the program will extend science-based food production methods that will increase yields, reduce crop risks such as virus diseases and insect pests, and lay the foundation for long-term productivity growth.

Virginia Tech will partner with Ohio State University as well as organizations in each of the targeted countries: the Office of the Upper Niger Valley and the Institute of Rural Economy in Mali, the Senegal Institute of Agricultural Research, and the National Agricultural Research Organization and Makerere University in Uganda.

The project is an associate award to Virginia Tech’s Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program, also funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has been working in sub-Saharan Africa for 15 years.

“This award represents a tremendous opportunity for Virginia Tech,” said S.K. De Datta, associate vice president for international affairs and director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development. “Through our past success in international agricultural research, we have built a good reputation both overseas and with donor agencies. In this time of rising food prices worldwide, I’m honored that we’ve been selected to manage this critically important project.”