IFSI serves as a hub to facilitate cooperation among four relevant programs at the University of Illinois towards a common goal of food security. These programs include: Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL), ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, AgReach, and Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE).
Soybean demand in Sub-Saharan Africa is rising, with production unable to meet demand largely tied to the growing domestic poultry consumption. Soybean production could offer smallholders in Africa a new source of income while providing a nutrient rich food source for feed or food. But, soybean yields in Sub-Saharan Africa are 25% of the world average and about 17% of common yields in Brazil, Argentina, and the U.S. The region is currently facing a net shortfall of 1 million metric tons of soybean meal and 450,000 metric tons of soybean oil. The problem is how to raise productivity among Sub-Saharan farmers so that small and medium holders and their communities can economically benefit from the soybean revolution.
Soybean production could address food security by raising incomes of the rural poor while contributing to lower cost production of vegetable oils, poultry products and other foods, but there are significant barriers to developing an inclusive soybean sector in Africa. Farmers are not familiar with growing soybean, and researchers and the private sector are unfamiliar with how to adapt the crop to local growing conditions. Soybean is also a commercial crop. Saving cash income, obtaining credit to put in next year’s crop, and accessing markets are essential. Finally soybean requires considerable household processing and the redesign of local recipes and culinary practices.
The mission of the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) is to provide researchers, extensionists, the private sector, NGOs, and funders operating across the entire value chain the critical information needed for successful soybean development. SIL focuses its efforts on four key research pillars that comprise the essential components of sustained production, improved livestock and household nutrition and sustainable market linkages for soybean development including genetic improvement, crop productivity and quality, livestock and human nutrition and value chains & socio-economic research. The SIL brings together leading U.S. and African soybean researchers, both natural and social scientists, to provide a sound research foundation to achieve the development of a soybean industry in sub-Saharan Africa that contributes to food security among small and medium scale farmers and urban consumers.
The problem of postharvest loss has significant global implications, and as such, is garnering much attention. Recent reports indicate that massive amounts of food are lost annually to postharvest waste. According to a 2011 FAO study (Global Food Losses and Food Waste), “roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.” An FAO/World Bank report (Missing Foods) published in May 2011 said that “[t]he value of postharvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa [are estimated] at around $4 billion a year …. This lost food could meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people.” For smallholder farmers, postharvest losses are a source of lost food from home storage and lost income from commercial sales. For consumers these losses imply higher costs and reduced access to food. In both cases they contribute to food insecurity.
Countries and governing bodies need to know the numbers and causes behind postharvest losses in order to adopt better forms of postharvest care. Without such information, no action can be taken, thus increasing the volatility of losses and impact on both human life and the environment.
The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss is an international information and technology hub for evaluating, creating and disseminating economically viable technologies, practices and systems that reduce postharvest loss in staple crops such as corn, wheat, and oilseeds.
Escape from poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition often depend on the extension of knowledge about technical options, nutritional health, and market opportunities. Extension systems in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central America need to undergo significant change if they are to effectively serve the food security and economic development needs of resource-poor men and women farmers. New approaches must draw on the full breadth of resources in public, private and civil society organizations and utilize available advanced information and communications technologies. AgReach is a center of excellence that seeks to promote and support such endeavors.
The objective for AgReach is to define and disseminate good practice strategies and approaches to establishing efficient, effective and financially sustainable rural extension and advisory service systems in selected countries. The goal is to help transform these extension systems, so they can play a key role in both increasing farm incomes and enhancing the livelihoods of the rural poor, especially farm women. By nurturing systems that can provide smallholder farmers with critical skills and information to increase their productivity, AgReach helps lift vulnerable farmers from poverty while making food more available in food insecure countries.
AgReach builds on the work completed in multiple USAID Feed the Future programs in global agricultural extension services, including “Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services” (INGENAES), “Strengthening Extension and Advisory Services in Georgia” (SEAS), and “Strengthening Agricultural and Nutritional Extension” (SANE) in Malawi.
Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is an international research project that is engineering plants to photosynthesize more efficiently to increase crop yields. By sustainably increasing the productivity of staple food crops, the project aims to reduce hunger and poverty for farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Half a century of research has provided us with the knowledge and tools to resolve bottlenecks in photosynthesis. Computer models identify the weak links; genetic engineering resolves them with precision and speed. The model’s predictions are first tested in model plants, and only successful approaches are incorporated into the project’s four staple crops: rice, cassava, cowpeas, and soybeans. Because photosynthesis is the same in many plants, RIPE technologies can one day be transferred to other crops.
RIPE formed in 2012, funded by a five-year, $25-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2015, RIPE partnered with Syngenta to evaluate and advance the project’s intellectual property. As a partner of the Gates Foundation, RIPE will ensure smallholder farmers in developing countries will have global access to the project’s intellectual property.