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K-State Today

July 20, 2020

K-State researcher awarded grant to sustainably intensify farming systems in Senegal

Submitted by Layne Wilson

A Kansas State University researcher with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification, or SIIL, has been awarded a $400,000 grant to sustainably intensify agro-pastoral farming systems in Senegal.

Zachary Stewart is leading a four-year study on dual-purpose cowpea to increase food and fodder production in Senegal. This work is supported by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legume Systems Research managed by Michigan State University with funding through the United States Agency for International Development.

Sustainable intensification of agriculture is required to address the growing challenges and needs of smallholder farmers across the globe. In Senegal alone, the poverty rate is high: nearly 57% of people are impoverished in rural communities. These communities primarily depend on crops and livestock for their livelihoods. Dual-purpose cowpea offers both the ability to produce nutritious grain for human consumption along with high-quality fodder for animal production. Early maturing varieties can produce grain in as little as 45 days after planting, which makes it a key crop to fight hunger.

Recent research has developed dual-purpose cowpea varieties for smallholder farmers in Senegal. This initiative will develop and evaluate agronomic strategies for the sustainable intensification of these varieties to increase their adoption and impact in smallholder farming systems. The team will use a multidisciplinary, farming systems approach based on the Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework, or SIAF, and a participatory research model to collect biophysical farming systems data and socioeconomic data to minimize trade-offs and maximize synergies across the system.

Stewart serves as the lead principal investigator for this project. He leads the SIIL's research activities in international soil health and cropping systems and serves as the program manager for the SOILS Consortium with a special focus on linking agricultural production to improved human health and livelihoods. Stewart earned his Master of Science in control of infectious diseases and his doctorate in soil science and crop physiology. His multidisciplinary background has been critical to connecting agricultural technologies to improved well-being of smallholder farmers.

"Agriculture for smallholder farmers is about more than just increasing crop production," Stewart said. "It provides the foundation for the economic and nutritional well-being of the family, the resilience and ability to bounce back after shocks such as drought and sustainability of the environment that supports future agriculture production. When looking to adopt new technologies, smallholders are interested in how the technology maximizes this system as a whole. Scientists must also conduct research that minimizes trade-offs and maximizes synergies across the system in order to increase the intended impact of the technology. This kind of farming systems research is at the foundation of our work."

This initiative is a collaborative effort among scientists at K-State and Senegalese National Agricultural Research and Extension Services, building on past research, existing collaborations, and leveraging resources from previous USAID-funded projects. In addition to research on legume systems, human and institutional capacity building is a key component of this initiative. One graduate student from Senegal will be recruited and trained at K-State, and at least five additional graduate students will be trained in Senegal. Farmer field schools and short-term trainings will also be provided in soil health, sustainable intensification, grain and fodder quality, and more. Outcomes from this project will contribute to the sustainable and inclusive reduction of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, which are major goals of the USAID Feed the Future initiative in Senegal.