USAID to invest $70 million in new global ag biotech initiatives

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

October 17, 2019

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to invest $70 million in new agricultural biotechnology initiatives to help deal with food insecurity challenges across the world.

“USAID will soon launch a major new collaboration opportunity for businesses, NGOs, universities and others to co-create our next generation with agricultural biotech investments,” said USAID Administrator Mark Green in a keynote address at the World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa.

“This new opportunity includes support to critical innovations, such as improved seed to help farmers better handle the next drought or resist the next pest invasion,” Green said.

The initiative also includes support to partner countries to develop policies that enable these science-based solutions to be researched, tested and purchased where they are most needed.

“We have such faith in what this offering can bring—what the collaboration can bring—that we are expecting to provide more than $70 million in support towards the best submitted ideas,” he told the gathering.

Green also announced the launch of a separate USAID initiative, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab, which will be led by Cornell University to work on crop improvement. He explained the lab will help develop new seed varieties and ensure that smallholder farmers have access to these innovations as quickly as possible.

Hale Ann Tufan, associate director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab based at Cornell’s International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS), told a media briefing that the new initiative will prioritize the interests of the developing countries that will be involved.

“We really have a philosophy which will be a co-creation with national programs,” she explained. “We will listen to national programs and respond to their needs and really give them the technologies and the tools to fulfill their national aspirations.”

The five-year, $25 million initiative will manage a portfolio of research investments on crops like banana and sweet potato. The lab will connect breeding efforts with demand to ensure that new and better seeds reach smallholder farmers through markets in Feed the Future’s 12 focus countries.

Green said USAID is making efforts to go beyond offering assistance to developing nations by working to ensure that struggling communities get access to the best technologies to deal with their challenges.

“Humanitarian assistance, including food assistance, is treatment, not cure,” he said. “We must develop new technologies and partnerships that will not only assist displaced families in crisis settings but offer them livelihood opportunities wherever they can find them.”

He added: “We must ensure their plight doesn’t sentence them to a life of dependency and stunted potential.”

Green also disclosed USAID will soon set up a new bureau for Resilience and Food Security, which will re-double efforts under the Feed the Future program to provide tools that people need to feed themselves and climb out of poverty.

The bureau “will make those tools more effective in communities facing crisis by adding resilience innovations,” he said, and will bridge the gap between food assistance, humanitarian aid and food security, helping families and communities take ownership of their lives and livelihoods.

“Every human being, every community, instinctively wants a hand up, not a handout,” Green noted. “And USAID wants to help them get there.”