Research improves secure access to nutritious food

October 07, 2014
IDRC Communications
Since its inception, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has worked with researchers and smallholder farmers in developing countries to increase access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and affordable food. Research has improved plant varieties, made farming practices more efficient, preserved environments, and brought technological innovations to small producers and products to market.

Since 2009, much of this research has been supported through the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), a joint initiative of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and IDRC. The CA$124 million program brings together Canadian and developing-country researchers, policymakers, and the private sector to improve agriculture and nutrition in developing countries, create new businesses and markets, and scale up innovations for maximum impact.  Canadian producers and consumers also stand to benefit from the research.


Achieving results in Africa

High-protein cassava: High-protein varieties of cassava, a staple food crop critical to the survival of more than 800 million of the world's poorest people, have resulted from decades of breeding by Brazil-based professor Nagib Nassar, whose early work was funded by IDRC. These nutritious, drought-resistant varieties are now widely grown in Brazil. Another hybrid resistant to the devastating cassava mosaic disease led to the development of cultivars now grown by millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Learn more:
Better cassava boosts food security

Breeding a better banana: Research supported in part by IDRC has reversed the rapid decline in banana production in central Kenya over the past 15 years. By 2012, more than 300,000 farmers were benefiting from new disease-free seedlings and improved planting methods. Near Nairobi, yields increased by 150% and farmers’ incomes rose from $1 to $3 a day.
Learn more:
Socio-Economic Impact of Tissue Culture Banana in Kenya (PDF, 392 KB)

Eradicating malnutrition: Child malnutrition has been significantly reduced in northern Malawi, following a decade of IDRC-supported research. Some 10,000 families now benefit from new planting methods (e.g., intercropping maize with nutrient-rich pulses and beans), nutritional education, and community involvement. The result:  improved soils, larger harvests, and healthier children.
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Bringing research to farmers' fields in Malawi

Higher yields, more efficient water use: In Africa’s Sahel region, farmers working with researchers combined fertilizer “micro-dosing” with improved rainwater harvesting techniques to boost yields of cereal and legume crops. These innovations substantially increased productivity and incomes. In Burkina Faso, sorghum yields more than doubled to about 700 kg per hectare. Quick to adopt the technologies, women farmers reported profits of up to 300%.
Learn more:  
Fertilizer micro-dosing: a profitable innovation for Sahelian women


Achieving results in Asia

Boosting fish farming: Ground-breaking research funded by IDRC in the Philippines in the late 1970s now provides fish farmers with a reliable supply of milkfish seed or fry to raise in their ponds. Milkfish account for about half of the Philippines' farmed fish and is vital to its food security. But until a breakthrough by the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center, milkfish would not breed in captivity. Fry had to be collected in the wild, limiting aquaculture's expansion in the country. Four hatcheries now supply the fry.
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Breakthrough supplies young fish to a hungry industry

Reducing millet losses: A portable grain mill developed in India is among the innovations funded through CIFSRF. Tested in four regions in India and set to expand to three more, the mill has already attracted private sector interest in South Asia, Africa, and the United States. The improved mill greatly reduces post-harvest losses and women’s work, and produces clean millet seed that sells for three to four times more — all while creating business opportunities for women to sell millet-based food products.
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Farmers find ways to reap the financial and nutritional benefits of millets

Protecting fruit, increasing income: Researchers in Canada, India, and Sri Lanka have developed a simple and eco-friendly technology to reduce post-harvest losses in perishable fruit. Spraying with a naturally occurring compound, hexanal, delays ripening and keeps mangoes on the tree for up to one month longer. Delaying the harvest helps farmers earn up to 15% more by selling fruit when most other producers’ supplies are exhausted. Using nanotechnology, researchers are introducing the compound to packaging to further prolong shelf life, an advance that could benefit soft-fruit farmers around the world.
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Reducing post-harvest losses in mango in South Asia 

Tapping into sunshine: Solar-powered fruit and vegetable dryers are helping residents of southeastern Bhutan’s remote villages increase their food security and improve livelihoods. To date, 23 dryers have been built and installed in remote, non-electrified villages. The dryers were built by local engineers and carpenters, trained through an IDRC-funded project. Villagers report improved nutrition, taste, colour, and quality of the products compared to the previous open-air drying system. The National Post-Harvest Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture plans to bring the model to other parts of the country.
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Solar dryers are improving livelihoods in Bhutan


Achieving results in Latin America

Better nutrition on the Altiplano: Small landowners struggling to survive on the inhospitable Altiplano now enjoy better nutrition and higher incomes. This is the result of decades of research by many IDRC-funded agricultural institutions in Peru. Starting in the late 1970s, researchers found ways to improve agricultural productivity, reduce poverty, ensure food security, and protect the environment. For example, they bred less bitter, higher-yielding varieties of nutritious quinoa. Productivity of alpacas and cattle improved with better pastures and management practices. Low-cost greenhouses boosted nutrition by allowing farmers to grow crops previously unknown on the arid plateau, such as radishes, beets, and carrots. Work continued through the Altagro program funded by DFATD.
Learn more:  More food, higher incomes in the Andes

City gardens feed thousands: In Rosario — Argentina’s third-largest city — more than 800 urban gardens are feeding some 40,000 people, with produce left over to sell. It was not always so. The country’s 2002 financial crisis left thousands of people without basic necessities, including food. Drawing on IDRC-supported research, the city introduced an outdoor market program, horticultural parks, and a new approach for leasing unused land.
Learn more:
Rosario, Argentina — A city hooked on urban farming

Hardier, more nutritious potatoes: In Colombia, researchers combined the best modern technologies and participatory methods to develop new potato cultivars that are highly resistant to late blight disease. The CIFSRF-funded research showed that some of these cultivars contain twice the amount of protein, are higher in iron and zinc than existing local potatoes, and yield up to 30% more. Farmers are now multiplying the cultivars to boost production.
Learn more:
New varieties of potato can feed the poor

Photos: IDRC; Loredana Marchetti; Flickr / Templar1307