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Cornell, Clemson, Kansas State will run new Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement

The new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement (ILCI) will be run through a collaboration between Kansas State University, Cornell University and Clemson and will be based in Cornell’s International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, according to an announcement made Wednesday at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

The program focuses on advancing plant breeding tools, technologies and methods aimed at delivering staple crops that can increase yields, enhance nutrition and show greater resistance to pests and diseases.

Based in International Programs in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the project will support national breeding programs in East and West Africa, South Asia and Latin America and serve as a model for introducing advanced agricultural technologies at scale to countries around the world.

The five-year, $25 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

The ILCI will be led by Stephen Kresovich, professor of plant and environmental sciences at Clemson University and a former vice provost for life sciences at Cornell. Hale Ann Tufan, co-director of Cornell’s Gender-responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (http://www.greatagriculture.org/) project, will serve as the new innovation lab’s associate director.

Experts from Cornell, Clemson University and Kansas State University – along with scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Makerere University in Uganda and private sector companies Cultural Practices and RTI International – will initially collaborate with national agricultural institutions in Ghana, Haiti, Nepal, Senegal and Uganda to accelerate the breeding of locally and regionally adapted crop varieties targeted to smallholder farmers. The lab will serve as a catalyst for delivering improved tools, technologies and methods for breeding crops such as legumes, roots, sorghum and millet, with the potential to expand to a variety of staple crops in other countries.

“In many regions where Feed the Future works, farmers grow outdated seed varieties often 15 to 20 years old, which lack resistance to pests, disease or weather-related shocks,” said Robert Bertram, chief scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. “This new Feed the Future Innovation Lab will be an important driver of change by enhancing crop breeding in ways that bring productive, resilient varieties to smallholder farmers, increasing their incomes and making nutritious food more available and affordable for low-income people in both rural and urban settings.”