Written By Graham Salinger
In many developing countries, poor people spend more than half their income on food, but many of them are not getting enough nutrients to stay healthy. The International Development Research Center (IDRC) is working to change that problem. Founded by an act of Canadian Parliament in 1970, IDRC works with research institutions and universities to advance the well being of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. IDRC has provided CA$2.8 billion in grants since its founding with a focus on agricultural programs that increase food security in the developing world and grow local rural and urban economies. Research funded by IDRC is helping find ways to help small-scale farmers deal with shocks to food prices and utilize technologies to enhance agricultural productivity.
In 2011, IDRC funded long term agricultural projects to help farmers deal with economic pressures and increased threats posed by climate change. In Kenya, IDRC funding has allowed researchers at McGill University and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to identify and develop appropriate and durable farming techniques for dryland agriculture while increasing access to markets for Kenyan farmers.
In the Dodoma and Morogoro regions of Tanzania, IDRC is funding research that will help increase goat milk and meat production. The research, conducted by the University of Alberta and The Sokoine University of Agriculture, will test and analyze improved cassava and sweet potato varieties as part of a feeding strategy for dairy goats and efforts to strengthen food production. This research highlights the importance of livestock production in the region. Goats rank second to cattle in the contribution of livestock to income and human nutrition, and 90 percent of rural households in Tanzania keep livestock.
In Burkina Faso , IDCR is helping five research institutions collaborate on strategies to improve crop yield in the Sahel, a dry area covering the southern edge of the Sahara desert that stretches from Senegal’s Atlantic coast to the Ethiopian highlands. The researchers hope to implement microdose fertilization techniques which involve using small amounts of fertilizer when planting or after the plants have grown. Coupled with technologies used to harvest water, microdose techniques have been shown to increase soil fertility and improve crop yield. Researchers hope to use microcredit loans to increase farmers’ access to these technologies.
Each year IDCR also gives a fellowship to masters and doctoral-level students, as well as recent graduates to do agricultural research focused on nutrition and food science in the developing world.