Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture is completing the fifth year of a competitively awarded cooperative agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) establishing the Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI). The initial phase of the agreement was funded at $12.5 million for five years.
At the meeting of the Texas A&M College of Agriculture Development Council on October 5, 2018, Counselor Chris Milligan of USAID Headquarters announced a five-year extension of the agreement, adding another $12.5 million. The new extension also provides a ceiling allowing optional funding of an additional $10 million from other sources such as the USAID Missions. Thus, this long-term partnership between Texas A&M and USAID was extended to ten years with potential total funding of $35 million.
ILSSI is conducting small-scale irrigation research in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana. Texas A&M partners with three Centers in the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research – the International Water Management Institute, International Livestock Research Institute, and the International Food Policy Research Institute. The project also partners with multiple developing country universities and other institutions. Research is conducted to evaluate small-scale irrigation (SSI) strategies in farmer’s fields; household surveys are conducted in the areas surrounding field studies to evaluate economic, nutrition and gender-related impacts of SSI and an integrated decision support system (IDSS) is used to assess the production, environmental and economic consequences of SSI farming systems. Results of field studies are extrapolated to national levels and used to plan and evaluate the regional and national introduction of SSI schemes. With the extension, ILSSI is considering expanding the agreement to other countries in Africa and Asia.
Dr. Neville Clarke, Director of ILSSI, explained that smallholder farm families in the countries where ILSSI works typically grow grain crops in the rainy season and store them to be consumed in the dry season. The introduction of irrigation is providing year-round access to fresh vegetables and fruit for the families and local markets. Irrigation is improving both the quantity and diversity of diet for participating farm families as well as increasing income. New methods of water lifting from wells, such as solar-powered pumps, are increasing the availability of water for irrigation and reducing labor costs, especially for women. The amount of fertilizer and other inputs to the farming system are being defined to assure optimal income and environmental sustainability. Water management practices developed in these studies are helping to assure the efficient and sustainable use of this limited resource. Results from these studies are being used by government planners to initiate new irrigation practices in those parts of the country where water resources can be sustainably used. The extension of the first phase of this program involves continuing the engagement with national governments and private sector stakeholders to translate and extend research results to practice. The overall goal of research such as this is to contribute to transforming subsistence farmers who feed their families with what they grow into small businesses with a stable and sustainable income that enhances and improves their quality of life. This research also provides the ability of small farmers to better withstand unpredictable shocks resulting from drought and other natural or market adversities.
Dr. Clarke noted that the ILSSI’s studies in Africa seek the best combination of production, environmental and economic consequences of new irrigation practices. The general principles developed in Africa also apply to and are being used by Texas farmers. Similarly, research results on water use in Texas done by A&M AgriLife Research in Texas are being applied in Africa. The principles being modeled in the IDSS are the same as those being developed in collaboration with the USDA and EPA for environmentally and economically sound principles for US farmers and are being used in practice across the country.
The recently arrived Vice Chancellor for Agriculture at Texas A&M, Dr. Patrick Stover, spoke at the announcement ceremony, thanking the Counselor and USAID for their decision to extend ILSSI and reiterating the commitment of Texas A&M AgriLife to an active and growing program in international agriculture.