U of S, Kenyan and Ethiopian scientists partner to combat hunger

Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan have teamed up with researchers in Ethiopia and Kenya in two innovative projects to help deliver safer and more nutritious food in Africa through better plant breeding and soil management and a state-of-the-art vaccine for cattle.

"Farmers face an increasing challenge to feed everyone adequately, safely and sustainably as our world population grows," said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. "International research partnerships such as these put new knowledge and innovation directly into the hands of farmers who will use it to improve food security for their families and communities."

The projects were announced today by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The U of S initiatives are among six new projects funded under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF). CIFSRF is a five-year, $62 million program that brings Canadian and developing-country researchers together to produce lasting solutions to hunger and food insecurity in the developing world.

"These projects have the potential for large impacts in several African countries as well as Canada," says IDRC President, David Malone. "They are very much in keeping with IDRC's mandate of funding practical research for development."

"Canada is a world leader in the fight against hunger, and our partnership with IDRC plays a strong part in our efforts. Food and nutrition security remains a key priority of our government's development assistance," says Bev Oda, the Minister of International Cooperation. "Our contribution to CIFSRF demonstrates Canadian leadership in assisting developing countries fight hunger through innovative practices and supports private sector growth in agriculture."

Carol Henry, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, is working with colleagues at the U of S and Hawassa University in Ethiopia on a $1.6 million project to tackle malnutrition in the African nation. By developing and introducing pulses such as chickpeas and haricot beans, the team aims to provide farmers with high-protein crops that also deliver nutrients such as iron and zinc, while at the same time enriching soils through the nitrogen-fixing capabilities of these plants. The goal is to increase household production, availability and consumption of these micronutrient-rich pulse crops to improve people's nutrition and health.

Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, affecting about 52 per cent of the country's rural population, particularly women and children. In southern Ethiopia, the problem is especially acute because diets and incomes depend greatly on cereals and root crops that are high in calories but low in nutrients. Three-quarters of pregnant women in southern Ethiopia are zinc-deficient, which contributes to the widespread stunting of infants.

Andrew Potter and
Volker Gerdts are working with Hezron Okwako Wesonga and Reuben Soi at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute on a $3.7 million project to develop an affordable, safe, easily-produced and easily-stored vaccine to eradicate contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), a highly contagious lung disease in cattle. Potter and Gerdts are the Director and Associate Director (Research), respectively, at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac).

While vaccines for CBPP are available, they are not practical in the African environment. CBPP, also known as lung plague, kills up to half of infected animals, and the survivors often become carriers of the disease. CBPP has been wiped out everywhere except in Africa where it threatens the livelihood of 24 million people in 26 countries. Its economic impact has been estimated to be $2 billion per year.

Today's funding announcement brings to 19 the number of projects supported under CIFSRF. This includes researchers from 11 Canadian universities and 26 developing-country organizations. It also represents the third and final round of funding announcements in the first phase of CIFSRF, a key component of the Government of Canada's Food Security Strategy announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the 2009 G-8 Meeting in L'Aquila, Italy.

For more information, please visit the
Research Communications website.

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