Feed the future: in our backyard

K-State’s Feed the Future labs look to solve the problems in the agriculture field

Kansas State University’s land-grant mission and research impacts more than the students and staff that walk through our halls— it impacts the world.

K-State was awarded four highly competitive grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish a fund for our Feed the Future Innovation Labs. The labs themselves are uncomplicated in their idea: share information and knowledge. They focus on improving the resiliency and production of food crop plants, as well as preventing crop losses in key countries, all to end world hunger. No other university has as many USAID grants awarded or as much funding for this initiative — close to $110 million to sustain what K-State is known for around the world: building human capacity and building institutional development.

The grand challenge of this generation of scholars is to increase food production by 60% on or before 2050 to meet the needs of 9.5 billion people using existing farmland and without damaging the environment. That is the concept of sustainable intensification — one of K-State’s innovation labs that is leading these global efforts. “We have to increase our food production by 60% in order to feed the world, and we could take care of 30% of that just by adapting our practices and fixing our food losses and food waste issue,” said Dr. Vara Prasad, a University Distinguished Professor and the director of the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL). He continued “We have to produce and provide access to safe and nutritious food to all using ways that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable and socially acceptable” and “focusing on research, education, outreach and building human and institutional capacity is key to the success”.

“Our number one goal is to help our smallholder farmers in the countries we are working in to intensify their farming system,” said Andra Williams, program administrator for SIIL, as well as a graduate student earning a certificate in data analytics. “What is important in our work is to reach out to people here in the U.S. to tell them that this is not just happening ‘over there’; it’s a whole system and we are affected by things across the world.”

“Historically, a lot of the innovation labs were focused on one very specific thing, like a commodity crop. Our lab focuses on farming systems as a whole, which at the time it was created, was a new approach to these labs,” said Andra. “We want to use this wealth of information we have floating around, the years and decades of knowledge and research, and create something out of it that can help people move forward.”

K-State’s reputation is what gives us this great privilege to be able to fund research projects through grants on our campus. We earned this by reinvigorating the land-grant mission internationally and engaging youth in agriculture. “Kansas State University is uniquely positioned to help around the world and be able to create empowerment in ways we can see,” said Andra.

Engaging international youth in this initiative is an issue of national security as well. If we can help other countries and ourselves with food security and provide major opportunities to youth, this will have a positive impact on national security. “Unless you’re dead, you still have time to make a difference,” said Andra. “There are so many ways to consider how you can make a difference. Find out who is innovating in your community in an area that lines up with your interests and go talk to them. There is never a reason to say no to making a difference.”

For more information about the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, please visit: www.ksu.edu/siil ,and to learn about all four Feed the Future Innovation Labs at K-State, visit: www.ag.k-state.edu/international/usaid/index.html.

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Meghann Winkler

Meghann Winkler Senior Development Officer - Agriculture


Kerry Wefald

Kerry Wefald Senior Director of Development - Agriculture