STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University is among a consortium of universities and other partners receiving a $25-million, five-year international grant to boost soybean production across Africa.
The Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Soybean Value Chain Research, also known as the Soybean Innovation Laboratory (SIL), is being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The project will provide the science necessary to enable small producers to share in the rising demand for soybeans. The research also will enable low-resource countries to address problems of food insecurity and protein malnutrition.
MSU is one of five institutions of higher learning and 10 governmental and non-governmental research partners involved. The university’s International Institute played a key role in forming the interdisciplinary team and connecting them with researcher counterparts at other universities.
The project’s approach is based on four research pillars: genetic improvement, enhanced crop productivity and quality, nutrition, and socio-economic research.
Peter Goldsmith of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is leading the project. Delaware State University, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and University of Missouri are the other universities participating.
Dan Reynolds, MSU plant and soil sciences professor and the Glover B. Triplett Endowed Chair in Agronomy, will lead in the development of a demonstration farm in Tamale, Ghana, similar to extension stations in the U.S. The farm’s purpose will be to demonstrate proper agronomic practices.
“We’re going to be utilizing that farm to teach others how to disseminate information to the growers in Ghana,” Reynolds said.
While Reynolds is a key research leader in the project’s soybean production component, MSU researchers Kathleen Ragsdale and Lindsey Peterson are co-primary investigators on another entity of the research. The two sociologists are investigating gender equity as part of SIL’s socio-economic research program.
Ragsdale is an associate research professor at MSU’s nationally recognized Social Science Research Center, while Peterson is an assistant professor of sociology and a fellow at the Social Science Research Center.
The role of women is a central theme of the project, Ragsdale said.
USAID estimates that “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, crop yields can increase by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people.”
While SIL project researchers will be working in Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and Ethiopia, Ragsdale and Peterson will focus specifically on nine villages in Ghana and nine in Mozambique.
With the help of their in-country partners, Ragsdale and Peterson will administer the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). Full-scale WEAI surveys will be conducted in the first, third and fifth years to collect data on socio-economic and gender-specific outcomes. During the second and fourth years, the team will conduct smaller-scale surveys on core questions to maintain data reliability and continuity.
“This approach is vital because it is widely recognized that women and men have different needs, priorities, access to resources and power over decision-making,” Ragsdale said. “In Sub-Saharan Africa, women are particularly vulnerable to these inequalities.”
Ragsdale and Peterson’s primary research goal is to gain a better understanding of gender inequalities in the agricultural sector in order to help rural women, their families and communities transition towards better food security, health and economic development.