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UF receives $7.9 million to improve food security and human nutrition in Mozambique

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida has secured a four-year, $7.9 million award to lead a unique new collaboration among experts in the U.S. and Brazil to improve agriculture and food security in the African nation of Mozambique.

The program model, known as trilateral cooperation, involves collaboration between two donor countries to help one beneficiary country, said Walter Bowen, international programs director for UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Bowen will lead a team of scientists from UF and Michigan State University on the award, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project’s primary goals are to reduce hunger and poverty in Mozambique by increasing agricultural productivity, creating economic opportunities and enhancing human nutrition. Partners based in Brazil and Mozambique will include institutes of higher learning and agricultural research agencies. Project activities in Mozambique will commence this spring.

Located on the southeast coast of the African continent, Mozambique is a country of about 28 million people. Though its economy has grown in recent years, it remains one of the world’s poorest nations and malnutrition is a widespread problem. Major food crops there include cassava, corn, sugarcane, coconuts and sorghum.

Trilateral cooperation was a logical choice because Brazil and the U.S. bring complementary strengths to the project, said Bowen, who spearheaded the effort to secure the award.

“We know we can do a more effective job if we combine the best expertise in the U.S. with the best expertise in Brazil,” Bowen said.

Brazil has a rapidly developing agricultural economy with climate and soil conditions similar to those in Mozambique, he said. Portuguese is the official language of both countries.

The U.S. has extensive experience funding and administering international development programs, Bowen said. Also, UF has long been involved in research and outreach programs in Brazil.

Win Phillips, UF vice president for research, said the award is significant not only because it will enable faculty members to help a developing nation, but also because the trilateral cooperation model may be a good fit for future UF partnerships.

“The university has a long history of collaborating with colleagues in Latin America,” Phillips said. “With this project we are taking that experience and leveraging it for the benefit of a third country. This is a model that has great potential as world economies become more interconnected.”

The project will be led by five faculty members, all of them fluent in English and Portuguese. Three are from UF: Bowen, Steven Sargent, a professor with the horticultural sciences department, and Marianne Schmink, a professor of anthropology in UF’s Center for Latin American Studies. Two are from Michigan State University: Cynthia Donovan, an assistant professor in the agricultural, food and resource economics department; and David Tschirley, a professor in the department; both have worked in Mozambique.

In addition, at least 14 UF faculty members will participate: Wendy-Lin Bartels, Emilio Bruna, Nicholas Comerford, Carmen Deere, Clyde Fraisse, Karen Kainer, Matias Kirst, Natalia Peres, Jose Santos, Maria Silveira, Arthur Teixeira, Wagner Vendrame, Joao Vendramini and Lincoln Zotarelli.

Besides providing humanitarian aid, the project will help UF scientists develop more effective strategies for improving agricultural systems and outreach, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“International cooperation is one of our key themes at IFAS,” Payne said. “The efforts we make in other parts of the world can lead to new farming approaches, new crops, new markets and many, many other innovations that ultimately benefit Florida residents and producers.”

Contacts

Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Source: Walter Bowen, 352-392-1965, wbowen@ufl.edu

Walter Bowen, director of international programs for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, poses in his office on the main UF campus in Gainesville (Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011). Bowen helped secure a $7.9 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development to fund a four-year project to improve agriculture and food security in the African nation of Mozambique. The project involves faculty from UF, Michigan State University and institutions in Brazil and Mozambique. (UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones)