Nebraska team wins grant to advance irrigation in six African nations

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Nebraska team wins grant to advance irrigation in six African nations

Rwandan farmers reap the benefits of irrigation
Rwandan farmers reap the benefits of irrigation.

An interdisciplinary University of Nebraska team led by the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development to advance access and education around smallholder farmer irrigation in Africa.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development, an international financial institution and specialized agency of the United Nations, invests in the prosperity and resilience of rural communities throughout the world. Small-scale agriculture, a proven method of poverty reduction, is central to their development model.

“Irrigation is a key tool for empowering smallholder farmers to increase their food and nutritional security,” said Nicholas Brozović, director of policy for the Daugherty Institute, professor of agricultural economics and primary investigator for the grant. “This project is about understanding and supporting the community of enterprises, including for-profit, non-profit and government-managed, that are needed to help farmers access irrigation and benefit from it. The work is intended to be very responsive to what people need. We’re trying to support young people, particularly entrepreneurs who have their own company or are interested in starting one, to build their technical capacity and connections while also incorporating both gender and nutrition elements.”

The grant, partially matched and co-funded by the Daugherty Institute, will focus on work in six countries: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Senegal, Niger and the Gambia. Collaborating closely with local partners, the team will explore whether identified business models for providing irrigation to smallholder farmers are inclusive and sustainable within their existing markets. As well as supporting entrepreneurs working with smallholder farmers, the program will share information gained from the research with young professionals, students and others who are interested in agricultural entrepreneurship.

This work leveraging Nebraska’s strengths to scale up agricultural capacity and efficiency for global food and water security is strongly supported by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, ranking member in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration.

“One of my missions in Congress is to create a greater link between international food security and development,” Fortenberry said. “Building on this idea, I am pleased to learn that the Rome-based IFAD is partnering with our University of Nebraska to share agricultural expertise with nations in sub-Saharan Africa –– to enhance farming, security and prosperity in the region.”

Project outputs include online content focused on agricultural entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa; country reports and insights; workshops, meet-ups, networking and other capacity-building programs; and agribusiness mentoring, incubation and acceleration programs.

These research and engagement efforts will lay the groundwork for pathways to scale-up innovative irrigation business models. Ultimately, proposals for pilots from the project’s partners — including existing and new business models — will then be submitted for testing and potential scaling up.

“We hope to end up with a strong community of people that are connected with similar methods, similar mindsets and working on similar problems across the different countries,” Brozović said.

“This is an exciting partnership with IFAD,” said Peter G. McCornick, executive director of the Daugherty institute. “It enables us to leverage the expertise of both organizations and our networks in Rwanda and across the region to advance water and food security in Africa and cultivate future agricultural entrepreneurs.”

The effort builds on a number of years of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln working in Rwanda as academic partners with the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture and with Rwandan students studying at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ Undergraduate Scholarship Program. The university has enrolled 200 CUSP scholars from the east African nation, the second cohort of which graduated in May 2020. Daugherty faculty have worked on-ground in Rwanda doing research and workshops to support smallholder irrigation since 2018. The new effort intends to take insights learned from these approaches and scale them, focusing on building local capacity.

“At the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, we are proud of our growing list of partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa and the impact that our collaborative work is having,” said Josh Davis, associate vice chancellor for global affairs and senior international officer for the university. “Over the past several years, Rwanda has been at the center of our engagement in Africa. This project with IFAD allows us to build upon our well-established relationships in Rwanda and beyond to work toward solutions to the global challenge of achieving food security while using less water.”

The project will engage the talents of four recent Nebraska alumni and graduates of the CUSP program: Raissa Urujeni, Polly Musayidizi, Natacha Akaliza and Ferdinand Turatsinze, as well as numerous partners in Rwanda and the region.

While current travel restrictions due to the pandemic would appear to be a roadblock for international research, Brozović and his team see it as a healthy challenge. They plan to produce a series of multilingual programs and trainings, using platforms such as YouTube and WhatsApp, tapping into the cultural knowledge and digital skill sets of current Rwandan CUSP scholars as well as other partners in each project country. Leveraging these technologies and talent, the team hopes to reach many more people from around the world than they could in face-to-face workshops.

“This new project is a great opportunity for the institute to reimagine how it operates globally,” Brozović said. “There are some real needs that aren’t being met and audiences that we haven’t really reached until now, and this is a chance for us to explore how we might effectively target and scale our impact.”

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