NUI Galway Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Malicha Halkhe hoes her land in preparation for laying the irrigation pipes and sowing her crops in Madowadi, Northern Kenya.
May 27 2013 Posted: 14:59 IST

Summary: National University of Ireland Galway-led program with Concern Worldwide wins prestigious Gates Foundation funding for participatory research on improving agricultural tools to reduce labour demands on smallholder women farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The NUI Galway collaborative research programme with Concern Worldwide has been awarded a US $100,000 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) Phase I grant to pursue an innovative global health and development research project (3D4AGDev) on participatory 3D rapid-prototyping of agricultural/cropping tools to reduce labour demands on women smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. The 3D4AgDev team’s project is one of the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 grants announced this week by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To receive funding, the 3D4AgDev teamand other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of four critical global health and development topic areas that included agriculture development, neglected tropical diseases and communications. Applications for the next Round will be accepted starting September 2013. 

This, the tenth round of GCE funding, is the first round in which any Irish institution or university has been successful in being awarded a Gates Foundation GCE award. While the initial Phase I grants are for US $100,000 each, projects showing promise have the opportunity to receive additional funding of up to US $1 million. In the most recent (tenth) round of GCE funding there were 1,300 proposals submitted worldwide, while 61 awards were made. 

The 3D4AgDev Program within the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) will be conducted in close partnership with Concern Worldwide, focusing on labour-saving agri-tool innovations for women smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 3D4AgDev Program project team consists of: Professor Charles Spillane, NUI Galway PABC agricultural research scientist; Dr Una Murray, NUI Galway PABC gender in agriculture expert; Carol Morgan, Concern Worldwide’s Regional Director for Central Africa; and Paul Wagstaff, Agriculture Advisor for Concern.

Over 1000 million smallholder farmers (predominantly women) are farming using labour intensive agricultural hand tools. Such agricultural tools include ones for tasks such as weeding, planting, harvesting and crop/food processing. Professor Spillane stressed that: “Smallholder agricultural systems remain largely dependent on human labour, having minimal access to alternative energy sources for cultivation and agri-processing such as draught animals or fossil-fuel powered mechanization. Routes out of poverty for smallholder rural communities will require a swathe of innovations that improve the labour productivity of their agricultural systems. Smallholder farmers living on less than a dollar a day face this challenge in an era when energy demand and energy costs are increasing to their disadvantage. The innovation challenge is how to enable smallholders to generate more income and agricultural produce while reducing the labour burden on women and rural children so that their livelihoods can improve.”

User-led innovation is where the end-users are involved in the research and design of an innovative product or process. The overall aim of the farmer participatory 3D4AgDev Program is to link the potential of user-led innovation with Rapid Prototyping (e.g. via 3D printing) to enable women smallholder farmer groups in Sub-Saharan Africa to design and develop their own labour-saving agricultural tools, tailor-made for their culture, soils and cropping systems.

The 3D4AgDev Program will facilitate a participatory technology development program with women smallholders farmers so that the farmers can develop their own agricultural tool and labour-saving innovations. Dr Una Murray highlighted that: “Labour saving tools for women smallholders can have major impacts, including leading to higher yields, higher incomes, more time for other activities, and reductions in harmful child labour in rural areas”.

Through linking the women smallholder farmer groups to rapid-prototyping user innovation processes, Paul Wagstaff from Concern indicated that “there is significant potential to improve the status of rural women through fostering an enterprise-oriented ‘maker culture’ for agri-tool innovations”.


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