Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management has won a $3 million award to strengthen agriculture in Bangladesh and improve the country’s resilience to current and emerging crop threats.

The award is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission in Bangladesh as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Improving the availability, affordability, and adoption of environmentally sensitive pest management approaches is a major priority of the three-year project, named the Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management activity. Another goal is to enhance the capabilities of those involved in agriculture in Bangladesh — from farmers to private companies to civil society — to apply such measures.

“Our past work in Bangladesh and nearly 30 other countries around the world has laid the groundwork for this important award,” said Muni Muniappan, director of the IPM Innovation Lab. “Bangladesh has vast agricultural potential to become more productive, profitable, and environmentally safe. This award will be a valuable opportunity to collaborate with new and existing partners in Bangladesh to minimize the agricultural constraints that might keep the country from producing high-quality crops for the global table.”

The IPM Innovation Lab will collaborate with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center to address crop threats such as the invasive fall armyworm, an insect that wreaks havoc on maize and hundreds of other critical crops.

The program will also coordinate with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to develop preventative measures against emerging crop threats by developing improved quarantine regulations and providing pesticide safety training to farmers. Ecological measures will be introduced to protect rice, mango, potato, lentil, and other crops from pests and disease.

As population growth and subsequent food security requirements increase, land scarcity is becoming a more pressing issue in Bangladesh. Despite recent growth in agricultural production, the country has yet to assume a competitive role in agricultural trade. Current and emerging crop pests and diseases threaten that progress.

In addition, reliance on outdated or toxic chemical pesticides is rapidly growing. Illiteracy, a lack of formal training, and limited access to protective equipment contribute to human and environmental health concerns.

“Agriculture plays a key role in the economic stability and human livelihoods of Bangladesh,” said Osagie C. Aimiuwu, acting director of USAID’s Economic Growth Office in Bangladesh. “With crop losses due to pests being a major constraint to alleviating poverty and improving nutrition in Bangladesh, achieving broad-based and inclusive integrated pest management adoption is essential for helping make its agriculture more resilient and productive. Additionally, sanitary and phytosanitary issues will need to be addressed for the agricultural export industry in the country to flourish.”

The IPM Innovation Lab will collaborate with Virginia Tech’s Women and Gender in International Development program to inclusively scale IPM practices and products in Bangladesh. One of the team’s goals is ensuring that women’s, men’s, and young people’s priorities and preferences are at the forefront of the project’s design. For example, the project will engage women as agricultural service providers and facilitate increased use of appropriate pest management tools.

Guru Ghosh, vice president of Outreach and International Affairs, said that prioritizing the economic, environmental, and social relevance of agricultural assistance is the foundation of the IPM Innovation Lab’s successful 30-year tenure in Bangladesh and dozens of other countries.  

“The IPM Innovation Lab has always been dedicated to serving some of the most productive, yet under-resourced people in the world — the farmers who grow our food,” he said. “It’s incredibly important that we prioritize the safety and health of both the plants and the people that provide us nourishment and sustain our lives. It’s also equally important to remember that crop protection in one country can benefit surrounding nations. The work of developing and implementing sustainable crop solutions like this new award in Bangladesh has incredibly valuable global implications.”

The Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management activity will be the fifth award the IPM Innovation Lab has won in just the past five years. Since the program’s inception in 1993, it has generated more than $2 billion in economic benefits to developing countries.

The IPM Innovation Lab and Women and Gender in International Development teams are both housed at the Center for International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Sara Hendery

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