Annual Report 2022-2023


Executive Summary

A total of 15 projects were successfully awarded by the Horticulture Innovation Lab during the reporting period, with 93% of sub-awarded funds going to academic institutions based in West and East Africa, Central America, and South Asia. These research projects focus on integrated pest management strategies, soil health, increased production, and postharvest loss. They also have strong social components concerning market access, nutrition, increased biodiversity, and are gender-responsive. Together, they represent a significant investment in innovative research and development endeavors aimed at enhancing horticulture practices and outcomes in each region, with global implications. To this end, the Horticulture Innovation Lab hosted its inaugural annual meeting, bringing together Principal Investigators (PIs), Co-PIs, the International Advisory Board, consortium partners, and specialists. This gathering fostered collaborative discussions and the sharing of expertise, contributing to the Lab's thought leadership in the field.

The Lab has been a proponent of the local-led development model, and this philosophy was emphasized through various presentations and discussions. This approach is deeply embedded in our systems-based and inclusive approach to Lab management. Notably, our regional hub managers have taken on increasingly prominent roles in global-facing events, underscoring the Lab's dedication to empowering local stakeholders. Moreover, the Lab has actively engaged with CGIAR on scaling initiatives, with a specific emphasis on gender and socially differentiated scaling. These partnerships continue to evolve, strengthening our efforts to promote sustainable horticultural practices. A highlight of the year was the visit of Cary Fowler to the University of California, Davis, where he discussed "The Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils" programs. This dialogue reaffirmed the Lab's dedication to African Indigenous Fruit and Vegetable crops, which have been a longstanding focus of our research efforts.

Highlights from the Management Entity and Regional Hub Managers this year are:

  • Development of impact pathway, an evaluation method that can be applied to all ILs
  • Results from informal market study in Nigeria
  • Forthcoming white paper on African Indigenous Vegetables
  • Initial results of Innovation Network study that contributes to understanding of effective innovation networks
  • Postharvest side-event at the All-African Postharvest Conference
  • Publication of review of postharvest innovations for small-scale farmers
  • GenderUp scaling tool workshops and trainings held
  • Locally led request for applications and awarding of twelve locally-led regional projects
  • Successful award of buy-in opportunity for work in Guinea Bissau
  • Regional Hub in Central America held a postharvest short course with stakeholders from the horticulture sector

As Chair of the FTF Innovation Labs, the Horticulture Innovation Lab team organized two significant conferences during the reporting period. The first conference took place in Nairobi, where 100 USAID staff, FTF Innovation Labs, and regional experts and stakeholders convened to deliberate on climate change adaptation and mitigation; this also included a focus on local-led development strategies. The second conference occurred in Washington, DC, focusing on the critical aspects of gender research within agricultural research for development.

As we look ahead to the coming year, we are poised to establish robust partnerships and initiate research projects in the countries where we operate. As initial research results emerge, the Lab will further solidify systems for information dissemination, application, and the connection of relevant lessons.

Focus Country Key Accomplishments

In FY2023, the Horticulture Innovation Lab worked with its consortium and Regional Hub Managers to set regional research priorities and communities of focus for research projects. Requests for Applications (RFAs) were developed in FY2023, and close to 125 applications were received across four regions - East Africa, West Africa, South Asia, and Central America. As a result of this process, twelve regional projects were awarded, all led by locally-based institutions.

In May FY2023, the Horticulture Innovation Lab held its annual meeting. Hosted by the Regional Hub in East Africa, the International Center for Evaluation and Development (ICED), this meeting gathered for the first time the Lab’s project principal investigators (PIs) to share with the consortium, the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s International Advisory Board (IAB), and with each other in-depth presentations on the purpose, methods, and objectives of their research projects. Additionally, this meeting provided an opportunity for the management entity to conduct important onboarding activities with the PIs in person.

Below is a description of the country-level research activities that have occurred in FY2023 as the projects are ramping up.

Guatemala: Two projects conducting research in climate smart agriculture in the Guatemalan highlands were contracted in FY2023. The projects are led by Universidad del Valle and Acceso. Participatory research approaches will be used in the projects to develop and validate appropriate agricultural technologies adapted to climate change for small-scale producers. 

Honduras: A fellowship project led by Zamorano University supporting Honduran graduate students to conduct horticulture research was initiated in FY2023. The target is for four students during FY2024 (2 men and 2 women) to receive two leadership courses and will have the opportunity to interact with producers and researchers to enhance their professional profile, along with receiving seed funding to conduct thesis research. Additionally, the Regional Hub, based at Zamorano University, has established connections with project PIs in Guatemala and assisted with onboarding of projects. The Regional Hub Managers also held a short training in postharvest management that was attending by stakeholders in the horticulture sector in Honduras.

Mali and Ghana: Two projects led by University of Ghana were contracted in FY2023 that will both be conducting research in Mali and Ghana. Inception workshops and initial survey design were completed in FY2023 for projects that will: conduct research in youth engagement with indigenous vegetables; research necessary input supply chains to support indigenous vegetable production; develop an accessible database of indigenous fruit and vegetables in West Africa; strengthen indigenous fruit and vegetable seed production systems; and identify nutrient-rich, climate-resilient high-yielding indigenous vegetable genotypes for production among small-scale producers. 

Nigeria: In FY2023, a project engaging youths in the production of indigenous fruits and vegetables was successfully contracted after delays with receiving a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI). Led by Obafemi Awolowo University, in FY2023 the research team identified fields in southern Nigeria for seed production of indigenous fruits and vegetables, and protocols were developed for soil, crop, and nutrition components. Additionally, in FY2023, research activities led by Wageningen University and Research (in a project examining the motivations of informal, mid-stream actors in horticulture value chains) completed its data collection and data analysis. Finally, the DryCard entrepreneur in Nigeria, Willow Foundation, continued to make sales of the technology in FY2023.

Kenya: Three Horticulture Innovation Lab projects are in Kenya. Led by ICED, the first research project is examining the cost-benefits of integrating horticulture into staple crop production in Kenya and was contracted in FY2023. The project has developed an extensive survey the project team will conduct in early FY2024. A second project led by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and GROOTS Kenya, researching the trade-offs (income, gender equity, household nutrition) of long versus short horticulture value chains (short being 1 or less intermediaries) held inception workshops and designed the survey that will be used to collect data from stakeholders in these value chains in FY2023. This project will also examine the extent to which information communication technologies (ICTs) are being used in these value chains. The third research project is being led by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) that is researching African indigenous vegetables (marketing and how to reduce postharvest losses) was awarded in FY2023, but has run into contracting delays. This project will be contracted in early FY2024. The Regional Hub in East Africa, led by the ICED, hosted the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s annual meeting in Nairobi and has supported PIs with the initiation of project activities and has presented at horticulture-related conferences. Specifically, the East Africa Regional Hub Manager, Dr. Penina Yumbya, organized and hosted a side-event on indigenous vegetables at the 4th All Africa Postharvest Congress in Ethiopia. Finally, the DryCard entrepreneur in Kenya, BetterCrops Ltd., continued to make sales of the technology in FY2023.

Nepal and Bangladesh: In FY2023, three new research projects were contracted in Nepal, with one of those projects also having activities in Bangladesh. First, a project led by Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development (FORWARD) Nepal is researching approaches that empower the youth entrepreneurs by promoting appropriate horticulture interventions that will promote employment and income opportunities. In FY2023 this project established institutional collaborations among partners and collaborators, recruited project staff including, and designed a survey questionnaire assessing agricultural land and fruit orchard leasing mechanisms, local and regional markets, and household data (youth aspiration, income needs and livelihood assessment). Second, a project researching how to reduce soilborne pathogens in tomato and pepper value chains in Nepal and led by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), established a project advisory committee, held inception workshops, conducted participatory research-oriented trainings, and initiated pathogen surveys on field sites in FY2023. This project has also conducted initial research in determining the effects of various treatments for soil disinfestations. The third project contracted in FY2023 and led by Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU), Nepal and Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), focuses on enhancing peri- urban and urban production of horticulture crops in Nepal and Bangladesh. This project, in FY2023, identified possible study sites in three different cities of Bangladesh to conduct the project activities and two horticulture resource centers in Makwanpur and Kapilbastu districts in Nepal. The Regional Hub Manager, based at FORWARD Nepal, in FY2023 collaborated with PIs to help advance project activities and has networked well with organizations in Nepal and the USAID Mission. Finally, the DryCard entrepreneur in Nepal, R&D Innovative Solutions, continued as a vendor of the technology in FY2023.

Uganda: In FY2023, the initial design of baseline studies, workshops, and field visits for a project awarded in FY2023 and led by Muni University were completed. The project will use participatory research methods to reduce postharvest losses and build market connections for small-scale horticulture producers in the West Nile region of Uganda. Twenty-three potential farmer groups across six districts have been selected to conduct participatory research and the development of a baseline tool to understand gender preferences in terms of crops grown and pre- and postharvest technologies is underway.

Additionally, the DryCard entrepreneur in Uganda, the Mwino Group, continued to make sales of the technology in FY2023.

Rwanda: In FY2023, research activities examining the informal horticulture sector in Rwanda were led by Wageningen University and Research. Data collection and data analysis of surveys distributed to plastic crate adopters in Rwanda were completed in FY2023.

United States: The Horticulture Innovation Lab had the honor of hosting State Department Special Envoy, Dr. Cary Fowler, Jefferson Fellow, Dr. John Leslie, and Agreement Officer Representative (AOR), Daniel Bailey, at UC Davis. The visit provided an opportunity for the three Innovation Labs at UC Davis to share their research activities with Dr. Fowler and learn more about the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) program. The visit included a tour of the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s Demonstration Center. In FY2023, the Demonstration Center also attracted informative tours to various academic courses on campus and international researchers (including the Mandela Fellows) visiting the campus.

See the complete Annual Report 2022-2023 for additional information