Jane Maland Cady: New Gates Foundation grant strengthens program roots

Farmers in southern Africa community of practice examining crops.

Farmers in southern Africa community of practice examining crops.

While driving down a rural southern Minnesota highway, in the midst of the corn and soybean harvest, I received the long awaited call that a renewal grant for the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program had been approved by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A fittingly agricultural location, albeit far removed from sub-Saharan Africa where the funding will have its impact.

The new grant — $25 million over the next five years — will allow McKnight to increase its focus on the integration of legumes into the cropping systems of Mali, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, as well as Niger, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique. Legumes are very important to African agriculture, both as a major source of dietary protein and more fertile soils, and because they tend to be more adaptable than other crops to drought, low nutrients, and other soil and climatic extremes.

Our renewal grant from Gates Foundation builds on a 2008 grant of the same size. Over the past five years, our two foundations have learned much from each other. In addition to significant work on the ground with farmers and communities in several regions, we also have made crucial professional connections and shared ideas and learnings from our unique efforts in agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa. I am very excited to continue this valuable partnership into the next five years.

Thanks to the 2008 grant, McKnight has been able to expand our context-specific, place-based model for grantmaking and capacity strengthening in agricultural research and development. Working through “communities of practice” that geographically cluster crop research projects in the best online casino natural and social sciences, we have helped develop new approaches to agroecological intensification (using eco-friendly practices to improve farming); operationalized an integrated framework for program planning, monitoring, and evaluation; and worked to strengthen research practices and foster new research leaders in Africa. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

Close-up of tef plant.

Close-up of tef plant.

McKnight”s overarching crop research goal is to build the capacity of smallholder farmers to farm better and improve food security and nutrition. By design, McKnight concentrates on improving locally important but under-researched crops such as tef, quinoa, fonio, amaranth, and others. Through funded research into the devastating bacterial crop disease “banana wilt,” for example, we have helped farmers to control the disease’s spread by up to 95% in Kenya and over 80% in Uganda pilot sites. Similarly, McKnight-supported crop scientists have improved a preferred bean variety in Tanzania to be more resistant to bruchids, a destructive storage pest. Also, over 150 students working with the program have competed Ph.D., Master’s, and BS/BA degrees in Africa over the past five years.

I am especially excited that this renewed support will allow us to build on advances from our first Gates Foundation grant, to expand our legumes-related research across the full range of linked activities, from development to dinner. It’s critical that we deepen our understanding, because legumes may well hold the key for improving ecologically sound farming practices that, in turn, will improve both soil health and human health. Equally important to me is our continued, close partnership with the Gates Foundation’s dedicated and insightful staff.

Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, and our continuing programmatic partnership with the Gates Foundation is a particularly appreciated opportunity to make a positive difference for smallholder farmers and their families.


JMC_mk0784_c Jane Maland Cady
International Program Director