University Innovations Cross Borders to Deliver Impact

August 3, 2017
Amer FayadFarmers in Nepal prepare seedling trays using coconut pith and the beneficial fungus trichoderma.

Bangladesh and Nepal are so close they could touch, if not for the small sliver of India between them. The three countries share more than proximity: Thanks to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, they also share technologies and research that help them grow better food and increase agricultural productivity. 

For many years, agriculture has made huge advances because of research, helping farmers and food producers boost yields, produce more nutritious and safe food, and keep up with agricultural demand. Through 24 U.S. university-led Feed the Future Innovation Labs, Feed the Future supports research that combats emerging threats.

Often, this important work spans borders.

In 1998, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management began working in Bangladesh and expanded its work to India and Nepal in 2005. While the Innovation Lab no longer has projects in India, the innovations it developed there are now helping address agricultural challenges in neighboring countries.

“Crop pests and diseases don’t care about borders,” said Muni Muniappan, director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab. “So we also share technologies across borders.”

One of the biggest successes to come out of this three-country partnership is the use of trichoderma, a fungus that fights diseases, promotes plant growth, and is safe to handle. Researchers from the Innovation Lab previously worked with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India, which had been producing and selling trichoderma to farmers. Once researchers learned about its benefits, they began promoting its production and use in Bangladesh and Nepal.

Trichoderma has been a godsend in treating fungal diseases in developing countries,” Muniappan said. “It is easy and cheap to produce, very effective against pests, and in addition to helping farmers regain their livelihood, it has created a new source of income.”

In India, the commercial production of trichoderma was so successful that Tamil Nadu Agricultural University built a new plant pathology building out of the money it made from the sale of the fungus. It is also an asset to vendors. In Nepal, entrepreneurs are making a living selling the fungus, based in part on trainings they received through the Innovation Lab. And in Bangladesh, trichoderma is mixed with compost and applied in the field to combat soilborne diseases of vegetable crops. 

Another technology developed in India and implemented successfully in Bangladesh and Nepal is the use of coconut dust to help raise seedlings. Coconut dust, previously considered a waste material, provides an ideal medium in which to grow healthy, young seedlings until they’re ready to be transplanted. Producing the seedling trays creates jobs, especially for women. They often earn valuable extra income doing this work, which they can invest in their families.

The Innovation Lab has disseminated other technological innovations and approaches throughout the three countries, like grafting vegetable shoots, using pheromone traps, and making bio-pesticides. To help rural farmers access and understand these tools and improved practices, the Innovation Lab is not only working through the usual channels of extension agents, NGOs, and development projects, but also by helping local, small-scale industries produce and market the recommended products to those that need them most.

Continuing their work to connect researchers from across the world, the Innovation Lab facilitates the transfer of vital technologies by organizing travel opportunities for Bangladeshi and Nepali farmers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to visit Indian universities and bio-pesticide companies. They also arrange for Indian scientists to visit Bangladesh and Nepal to host scientific workshops to share knowledge.

In 2016, five representatives from Bangladesh’s leading agribusiness firms traveled to India to visit nurseries, attend university lectures, and see a bio-fertilizer lab.

The connections made between India, Bangladesh and Nepal have led to increased crop production, a reduction in health and environmental damage, and an economic benefit to local farmers and agri-business entrepreneurs. They are also a valuable opportunity for developing countries to profit and learn from one another.