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NIFA and the U.S. Land Grant System: A Model of Support for Developing Country Research & Extension Systems
By Margaret M. Zeigler, Ph.D., Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative (GHI)
On Monday, March 4, I had the distinct honor of addressing the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) leadership at their annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The 220 deans and directors of APLU were in town to share the successes of their programs with the U.S. Congress and to inform them about their needs and challenges. I shared the GHI 2013 GAP Report® findings and in particular, the essential role that investing in agricultural research and development (ag R&D) plays in producing more food with less inputs, resulting in highly productive systems of agriculture.
America’s land-grant universities, established more than 150 years ago by President Abraham Lincoln under the Morrill Land-Grants Act, provide world class research, education, public outreach and extension systems that have enriched our rural communities, and created highly productive food, fiber and renewable fuel systems that address national and global challenges. The U.S. land grant institutions are a primary source of knowledge to ensure that our research, education and extension systems meet the 21st century needs of our farmers, ranchers, and consumers.
The most significant funding source for this education system comes from an innovative federal-state partnership of grants managed by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA is USDA’s extramural science agency, and funds competitive grants and cooperative extension programs to link educators and land-grant faculty to people across all 50 states, D.C., and the U.S. territories. This system of cooperative extension translates science for practical application, prepares people for healthy productive lives, and provides rapid emergency response after natural disasters (including drought, hurricanes, floods, and outbreaks of pests and disease).
In the wake of the 2009 global food crisis, many developing country governments are now seeking to revitalize and expand their systems of agricultural research and extension, to provide better tools to their farmers and ranchers and food producers as they face climate change and growing food demand. The U.S. land grant universities are increasingly providing support and knowledge exchange with developing countries. The U.S. research and extension system and the collaborative funding structure of NIFA can serve as a model for developing countries as they strengthen their own systems to meet their national and regional needs.
The research agenda for developing countries should be designed with special attention to small farm priorities and incorporate a greater appreciation for indigenous innovation and experimentation to preserve local knowledge and food traditions. Nutrition and equitable gender priorities must also be included.
Our next guest writer, Anne-Claire Hervy, associate vice president for international development and programs, APLU, will discuss recent U.S. investment in capacity strengthening of higher education and innovation systems in developing countries. Stay tuned!