What role does the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab play toward this important goal?
By Jamie Rhoads, Assistant Director, and Christy Fricks, Communication Specialist, Peanut Mycotoxin Innovation Lab
Many peanut producers may be familiar with the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program, Peanut CRSP, which has been managed by the University of Georgia since 1982. This program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has worked to connect the best U.S. scientists with collaborating research and development institutions in developing countries to improve the lives of peanut farmers and consumers across the globe through better peanut production.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Peanut Productivity and Mycotoxin Control, better known as the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab, or PMIL, continues the strong legacy of the U.S. peanut research community and industry supporting fellow peanut farmers in developing countries to become more food secure.
Food Security For All
PMIL is part of the “whole of government approach” to food security and nutrition programming called “Feed the Future,” and is one of 24 similar Innovation Labs hosted at U.S. universities and representing more than 60 institutions of higher learning. While not a physical laboratory as the name might imply, the Innovation Labs are networks of researchers in the United States and abroad working together to improve food security and reduce poverty in key countries of the Feed the Future initiative.
PMIL works primarily in five target countries (Haiti, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia), with other collaborations in Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and others, where peanuts are an important source of food security, cash revenue and agricultural diversity. Most peanut farmers in these countries farm less than two acres, using mainly manual labor and hand tools and only produce yields of 500 to 800 pounds per acre on average.
A Win-Win For The U.S. Peanut Industry
Although peanut production in developing countries may be entirely different, the supporting research benefits farmers in the United States as well. For example, PMIL collaborators have helped to obtain genetic materials for the peanut germplasm bank that has been used to introduce diversity into breeding programs, including disease resistance traits.
PMIL helps to support researchers at many important peanut research institutions, including the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University, the University of Florida, Texas A&M University, USDA-ARS and others. PMIL researchers often use personal time and resources for this work because they appreciate the impact their skills can have to help those less fortunate. They also often discuss how their experiences abroad and interactions with collaborating scientists reinvigorate their passion for peanut research and open their eyes to new ideas.
PMIL and Peanut CRSP funds have been used to train 136 students, including many at U.S. institutions who have contributed to U.S.-based research. These foreign students, many of whom have returned to train other students or lead government institutions, are often the best ambassadors for U.S. interests overseas.
“PMIL’s research objective is not to create competition, but to help farmers in developing countries grow peanuts to help feed their families and make a little extra to pay for their children’s education,” says Dave Hoisington, PMIL director.
Mostly Grown For Home Use
Here, peanut is grown in drier areas with no irrigation and on sandier soils where staple crops like corn don’t produce as well. Inputs, such as pesticides, fertilizer or improved seed varieties, are very rarely used because peanut is sold mostly in informal markets or consumed at home. Peanut farming has seen little investment from governments or the private sector.
In the target countries, most peanut farmers are women who grow peanuts to make sure their families have enough to eat and will sell the remainder in local markets for cash to pay for school fees or buy food.
As research continues to show, peanuts are a very healthy addition to the diet. In many of the targeted countries, peanuts are not only consumed as snacks or peanut butter, but are a more central part of the diet in the form of sauces and oil that are consumed daily. Peanuts are often the most important source of protein and fat for many people.
When drought hits an area and the corn crop fails, as it may for our partners in Malawi this year, the peanut crop may still survive and generate life-saving income for those farmers.
Much Work Aflatoxin-Related
For these reasons, PMIL works to develop the capacity of local research and Extension organizations in these countries to support peanut farmers. Most farmers lack the basic information needed to improve their yields and better conserve their crop against pests and the risk of aflatoxin contamination.
The goals of the PMIL will be achieved through three focus areas:
1) Development of improved varieties specific to the production and market constraints of each region. This includes everything from collaborative genetic marker identification for low aflatoxin contamination and drought tolerance, to evaluation and dissemination of improved varieties with resistance to common diseases in Africa, such as Groundnut Rosette Virus.
2) Addressing critical constraints along the entire peanut value chain in each of the target countries. This includes a range of activities from input evaluation and facilitation of input access, to evaluation of low-cost post-harvest technologies for the reduction of aflatoxin, to even development of new processing technologies for improving food safety or nutrition for pregnant women.
3) Improving mycotoxin detection. This includes the development and evaluation of low-cost technologies and methods to detect and remove aflatoxin from the value chain. Aflatoxin is a major uncontrolled public health hazard in many of the targeted regions and has been linked to childhood stunting.
PMIL serves as an avenue to show the power of peanuts to improve the lives of farmers and consumers globally.
For more information about PMIL’s activities, visit http://pmil.caes.uga.edu/- locations/index.html.