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K-State Today

September 24, 2014

University awarded $50 million competitive grant to support fourth federal research lab, focused on sustainable intensification

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has awarded Kansas State University a $50 million grant to lead global efforts on increasing food production with limited resources and reduced stress on the environment.

The five-year grant establishes the Feed the Future Innovation Lab on Sustainable Intensification at Kansas State University. Feed the Future labs are part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

"This is a major win and a testament to the capabilities and longstanding commitment to agriculture shared by Kansas State University and the state of Kansas," said Karen Burg, vice president for research and professor of chemical engineering. "Kansas State University is proud to address significant global food challenges through our four USAID Feed the Future labs and our Global Food Systems Initiative."

Sustainable intensification focuses on increasing food production from existing farmland while minimizing resource use and the pressure on the environment. It is a response to the increasing demand for food from a global population projected to reach 9.6 billion in the coming decades, as well as to the unsustainable use of land, water, energy and other limited resources.

"Bringing additional land into agricultural production would have significant negative environmental impacts, which can be avoided with sustainable intensification, while also protecting or enhancing natural resources," said Gary Pierzynski, head of the agronomy department, university distinguished professor of soil science and co-principal investigator of the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab.

This lab will be the world's leader in identifying technologies that will help smallholder farmers in key African and South Asian countries improve their management of land, water, soil, crops, trees and livestock while simultaneously improving yields and sustaining natural resources.

Although the efforts will be focused abroad, the challenges of sustainable intensification are important to Kansas and other agriculture producing states and nations.

"The research is mutually beneficial to both international and U.S. agriculture," said Vara Prasad, professor of crop ecophysiology, director of the Great Plains Sorghum Improvement and Utilization Center, and the principal investigator of the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab who also will serve as its director. "We will be working on leading research and capacity-building of all our partners, including training of graduate students, scientists and farmers."

Kansas State is partnering with the University of California, Davis to organize a Geospatial and Farming Systems Research Consortium — a component of the lab's sustainable intensification efforts. Kansas State University also will collaborate with other Feed the Future Innovation Labs, nongovernmental organizations, the Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research, universities, national agricultural research systems and extension professionals.

Of the $50 million awarded for the Sustainable Intensification Lab, $25 million will be core USAID funding from the Bureau of Food Security and up to $7 million represents buy-ins from USAID Missions. In addition, $18 million may be added as Associate Awards.

This is the fourth USAID Feed the Future grant awarded to Kansas State University since July 2013. Other labs include Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics and Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss.

"With four Feed the Future Innovation Labs now hosted by the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension, USAID is making a nearly $100 million investment in Kansas State University's ability to provide leadership to the global food systems research, teaching and extension efforts," said John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture.

"In the case of innovation labs, USAID is recognizing Kansas State University's ability to develop and implement effective science-based international programs in agriculture," said Nina Lilja, associate dean of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and co-principal investigator for the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. "Excellence in science is the foundation of success, but it is not sufficient; you have to build a strong science and administration team behind it all."

Feed the Future Innovation Labs are part of the USAID Feed the Future Initiative's efforts to encourage multidisciplinary research, training and capacity building that address the problem of food insecurity and undernutrition in developing countries. The labs support leading researchers and students in the U.S. and around the world in seeking solutions to overcome hunger and poverty in developing countries.

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