This week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is attending the Annual Meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in San Francisco. USAID shares a long history of close partnership with U.S. universities, including collaboration on agricultural capacity development activities in the developing world. See below how some of this work is reaching women researchers in Africa.

Last month, I was honored to have the opportunity to attend the 2011 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa as a fellow in the Borlaug 21st Century Leadership Program. The event saw participation from hundreds of leaders and experts in policy, industry, and research from all over the world, convened there to discuss global food security and agriculture.  Throughout the week, I encountered countless high-powered individuals who have been working tirelessly to achieve global food security by facilitating increased production among small-scale farmers.  They have made a compelling case for improving the effectiveness of U.S. investments in global food security and for addressing the troubling gap between population growth and food production.

An example of these investments to build long-term food security, my own research through the Borlaug Program has focused on an important aspect of the food supply: pre- and post-harvest losses.  From the time that seeds are planted to the time that farmers harvest and store their crops, good farming practices are essential to agricultural productivity.  Food security is compromised when farmers plant damaged seeds, leading to unviable crops; when poor farming practices result in a poor crop yield; or when improper storage and loss of crops prevent farmers from reaping the rewards of months of hard work.  Therefore, one clear way to help reduce global hunger is to reduce pre- and post-harvest losses.  My goal is to be able to find a lasting solution to the problem of postharvest grain storage faced by the farmers in my home country of Nigeria.

Environmental and safety concerns have created a global drive toward reducing the use of synthetic pesticides for post-harvest storage, which has increased the need for safe, affordable, and easy-to-use alternatives.  With the support of USDA through the Borlaug Program, I am investigating naturally occurring materials, like botanicals and diatomaceous earth, which are readily available and locally sourced.  These materials can be used as post-harvest protection tools to prevent stored grains from being lost to insect pests.  So far, the results of my research have shown these materials to be highly effective as grain protectants. While further studies are necessary to ensure that these materials are safe for human consumption, it is encouraging to explore potential alternatives to synthetic pesticides that could help many farmers in developing countries protect their hard-earned food supply.

Achieving global food security depends on how effectively farmers can manage all the stages of agricultural production.  Through the Feed the Future initiative and innovative research like that fostered through the Borlaug Program, we are finding ways to help farmers increase agricultural production safely and sustainably.  This kind of work has been pioneered by people such as Wangari Maathai, who strove to ensure that good stewardship of land could also lead to improved livelihoods among the most vulnerable people.  Leaders like Ms. Maathai and those I met last month in Des Moines have increased my desire and interest to deepen my research on food security through effective post-harvest practices.

Read more about Borlaug Fellows’ participation at the World Food Prize on USDA’s Blog.