By Rachel Mipro
TOPEKA — Kansas researchers will turn their focus to wheat, millet, and other crops in a federally funded attempt to tackle world hunger.
The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded Kansas State University $22 million to research how best to promote the growth of crops as climate change and global instability continues to derail the agricultural industry.
Kansas State will lead the Feed the Future Climate Resilient Cereals Innovational Lab, or CRCIL, focusing on sorghum, millet, wheat and rice as major world crops that need to be protected. The university will partner with several other state universities including Cornell University and Louisiana State University, along with international partners in South Asia, Eastern and Western Africa and Latin America.
Jagger Harvey, director of CRCIL and a research professor in the Plant Pathology Department at Kansas State, said the project will look at ways to make these crops more resilient, including researching seed modification to help double food production and crop durability as climate conditions worsen.
“Kansas farmers and researchers are no strangers to harsh climatic conditions impacting cereal production,” Harvey said. “This makes K-State the perfect home for this new initiative.”
The funding will support collaborative research, along with using plant-breeding technology, such as DNA sequencing and genotyping, crop modeling, and quicker growth methods, with the end goal of providing hardier crops to farmers around the world.
Dina Esposito, USAID’s assistant to the administrator for Resilience, Environment, and Food Security, said the initiative would help tackle problems of hunger and poverty.
“Advancing this work is critical to generating a pipeline of climate-adapted crops so we can strengthen the resilience of small-scale farmers and meet their current and future needs,” Esposito said.
Jared Crain, a Kansas State plant pathology department research assistant professor who will serve as the associate director of the innovation lab, estimated that more than 50% of the world’s caloric intake comes from cereal crops.
“With the exception of maize, CRCIL is dedicated to identifying and using genetic variation to improve farmers’ production and consumers’ acceptance of the top vital cereals,” Crain said.
The $22 million award is the fifth award that Kansas State has received through Feed the Future, a federal initiative attempting to combat world hunger. USAID has invested nearly $128 million in Kansas State innovation labs for research into agricultural areas such as post-harvest losses and increasing harvest yields.