A University of Guelph plant agriculture professor has received a $2.3-million federal grant to promote food security in Nepal by assisting farmers, especially women, to improve sustainable farming practices and technologies.

Manish Raizada’s grant was one of three announced today by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

His project will involve researchers at Guelph, the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Nepalese non-governmental organizations (NGO), and private-sector companies in Nepal and Canada.

Funding will come from the $124-million Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), which supports partnerships between researchers in Canada and developing countries seeking practical solutions to hunger and malnutrition.

“This is a wonderful example of the University’s commitment to being engaged globally and how Guelph research is making a difference in the daily lives of people around the world,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

“Manish’s work in Nepal will address critical issues such as food security and scarcity, and help bring about social change that will have great economic benefits.”

Raizada will test farming innovations and offer strategies for NGOs and the private sector to help 100,000 Nepalese.

His team will test and scale up sustainable agriculture kits (SAKs) that allow farmers to work more sustainably and reduce their back-breaking labour. The latter is especially important in Nepal, where much of the farming is terraced into steep hillsides and is increasingly being performed by women.

“My partners and I have an exciting opportunity to mobilize low-cost, sustainable products, which typically cost $1 or less, to tens of thousands of vulnerable hillside and terrace farmers in Nepal,” Raizada said.

“The lessons that we learn will apply to East Africa, Haiti, Central America and East Asia.”

To encourage more self-sufficient and resilient farming, the kits contain biodiversity seed packages, low-cost weeding tools and a picture book of farm practices for illiterate women farmers, including instructions for making hybrid corn seeds, Raizada said.

The project team will test a distribution model for selling or renting the kits through stall-based franchises and local vendors by using existing snack food distribution networks.

“It strikes me that barbecue potato chips and Coca-Cola can be found in even the most remote jungles of Africa, so why can’t we get weeding tools there, too,” Raizada said.

“If we succeed, we will promote a model that empowers the private sector in remote hillside areas, rather than promoting handouts.”

The team will also test strategies to intensify terrace agriculture and new products that encourage sustainability, including a biotech invention from Raizada’s research lab called GlnLux, which increases organic nitrogen fertilizer production.

The project will promote trade between Canada and Nepal to create jobs in both nations. This fall, Raizada involved 200 Guelph students in nominating agri-food trade products that will benefit both Canadians and Nepalese.

Raizada hopes that some of the extra income earned from higher food production will be used to send Nepalese children – especially girls – to school.

“Our objective is modest: to use the kits to raise the incomes of our partner farmers by $250 to $300 per family annually,” he said.

“But that is enough for a family to send one girl to school. We know that if a girl is educated, her entire future family has the best chance of being lifted out of chronic poverty.”

The project also involves U of G post-doctoral researcher Malinda Thilakarathna, graduate students Kamal Khadka and Finlay Small, and undergraduates Gryphon Loubier, Austin Bruch, Jaclyn Clark, Myla Manser and Sophia Watt.

Previously, Raizada received IDRC funding to test tool kit components with hundreds of marginalized millet farmers in Nepal, Sri Lanka and India.