Global Horticultural Knowledge Bank Emphasizes Farmer-Led Innovations

Valuable specialty crops including fruits, nuts, and vegetables are key to both the economic progress of developing countries and the nutrition of local populations. However, specialty crops are also knowledge-intensive. The preservation of traditional knowledge in developing countries is vital, but farmers also need access to cutting-edge research and technology from the developed world. The newly created Global Horticulture Knowledge Bank is collaborating with extension and development workers in low-income nations to transfer relevant research and technology to farmers.

The project is a program of the International Programs of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Scientists and students at the knowledge bank are creating interrelated websites that respond to the needs of small farmers. The websites improve financial literacy, provide technical information, and offer project evaluation tools. The researchers are identifying next steps for testing knowledge with end-users, and figuring out how to best apply knowledge in developing nations through partnerships with existing development organizations.

The Global Horticulture Knowledge Bank is partially funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture, a collaboration between UC Davis and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The lab, one of 23 across the U.S., hopes to improve livelihoods in developing countries by building partnerships for fruit and vegetable research.

 Feed the Future Innovation Labs work with more than 60 colleges and universities to disseminate cutting-edge research and technologies to research partners in the developing world; much of the research focuses on adaptation to climate change and feeding a growing population.​

“We're making a concerted effort to understand how horticulture can make a difference in the lives of the world's poorest people,” says Elizabeth Mitcham, Horticulture Innovation Lab director and UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis.

Through the websites, relevant geospatial information can be used by partner organizations in the developing world to identify target areas for improvement of production practices.

Sites provided by the knowledge bank include links to technical information such as Hort Hospital, to diagnose crop problems; Hort Practices, to provide information on producing and handling corps; and Hort Energy, for reducing energy use. Cross-crop topics such as food safety, irrigation, and postharvest handling are consolidated for convenience and usability. Consolidation of this information can also be useful to small farmers who are growing many different types of specialty crops and seeking general information for diversified farming systems.

Other sites of the projects help to develop businesses and financial literacy of farmers. Hort Business, for use by community entrepreneurs; Market Master, to analyze production potential and market demand; Hort Extension, to develop farmer education frameworks; Hort GIS, to utilize and develop geospatial data; andProject Evaluation, used for monitoring project success, are all important tools for developing efficient supply chains beginning with farmers.

The links are in the development stage and most of the sites are currently soliciting feedback from partner organizations.

The Global Horticultural Knowledge Bank has plans for further collaboration with country partners to develop online resources in multiple languages and formats. To better meet the needs of low-income farmers and food processors in developing countries, effective partnerships with existing development groups will be vital for providing technical information. The group also needs global experts to source credible information and provide technical reviews. Through solicitation of feedback and its work with partner organizations, the knowledge bank hopes to create a mutual exchange of knowledge, rather than a one-way flow of information.

The knowledge bank is also working to access relevant micro-energy projects to provide affordable and sustainable energy solutions to communities of small farmers. In addition, the knowledge bank is working to become a repository for information on better postharvest handling and marketing. This could have implications for reducing food waste. Postharvest losses of fruit and vegetables are between 24-40 percent in developing countries. More efficient supply chains in the developing world could reduce food waste, which drags down farmer incomes and represents overuse of precious natural resources.

The Global Horticultural Knowledge Bank is at the leading edge of a wave of innovative, open-access approaches that are changing the way farmers grow food. Led by farmers, many of these approaches are being developed through crowd-sourcing and accessed by mobile technology in the developing world. Access to vital information on crop performance can improve yields and reduce farmers’ economic burden, securing family livelihoods and improving nutritional outcomes in their local communities. 

With support from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, Food Tank will be highlighting projects that marshal increased awareness and research on democratizing innovation and true cost accounting. The Global Alliance is a unique coalition of foundations committed to cultivating healthy, equitable, renewable, resilient, and culturally diverse food and agriculture systems shaped by people, communities, and their institutions. The Global Alliance and Food Tank would like to thank Global Alliance members McKnight Foundation and GRACE Communications Foundations for their particular support for this effort.

Continue Reading