Nebraska team wins grant to advance irrigation access for smallholder farmers in six African nations

Nebraska team wins grant to advance irrigation access for smallholder farmers in six African nations


An interdisciplinary University of Nebraska (NU) team led by the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI), has received a three-year, one million dollar grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to advance access and education around smallholder farmer irrigation in Africa. IFAD, an international financial institution and specialized agency of the United Nations, invests in the prosperity and resilience of rural communities throughout the world. Small-scale agriculture, a proven method of poverty reduction, is central to their development model.

“Irrigation is a key tool for empowering smallholder farmers to increase their food and nutritional security. This project is about understanding and supporting the community of enterprises, including for-profit, non-profit, and government-managed, that are needed to help farmers access irrigation and benefit from it. The work is intended to be very responsive to what people need,” said Nicholas Brozović, Director of Policy for DWFI, professor of agricultural economics and primary investigator for the grant. “We’re trying to support young people, particularly entrepreneurs who have their own company or are interested in starting one, to build their technical capacity and connections while also incorporating both gender and nutrition elements.”  

The grant, partially matched and co-funded by DWFI, will focus on work in six countries: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Senegal, Niger and the Gambia. Collaborating closely with local partners, the team will explore whether identified business models for providing irrigation to smallholder farmers are inclusive and sustainable within their existing markets. As well as supporting entrepreneurs working with smallholder farmers, the program will share information gained from the research with young professionals, students and others who are interested in agricultural entrepreneurship.

This work, leveraging Nebraska’s strengths to scale-up agricultural capacity and efficiency for global food and water security is strongly supported by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.

"One of my missions in Congress is to create a greater link between international food security and development. Building on this idea, I am pleased to learn that the Rome-based IFAD is partnering with our University of Nebraska to share agricultural expertise with nations in sub-Saharan Africa––to enhance farming, security, and prosperity in the region,” said Congressman Fortenberry (NE-01), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Project outputs include online content focused on agricultural entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa; country reports and insights; workshops, meet-ups, networking and other capacity-building programs; and agribusiness mentoring, incubation, and acceleration programs.

These research and engagement efforts will lay the groundwork for pathways to scale-up innovative irrigation business models. Ultimately, proposals for pilots from the project’s partners – including existing and new business models – will then be submitted for testing and potential scaling-up.

“We hope to end up with a strong community of people that are connected with similar methods, similar mindsets and working on similar problems across the different countries,” said Brozović.

“This is an exciting partnership with IFAD,” added Peter G. McCornick, Executive Director of DWFI. “It enables us to leverage the expertise of both organizations and our networks in Rwanda and across the region to advance water and food security in Africa and cultivate future agricultural entrepreneurs.”

The effort builds on a number of years of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) working in Rwanda as academic partners with the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture and with Rwandan students studying at the UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ Undergraduate Scholarship Program (CUSP). UNL has enrolled 200 CUSP scholars from the east African nation, the second cohort of which graduated in May 2020. DWFI has worked on-ground in Rwanda doing research and workshops to support smallholder irrigation since 2018. The new effort intends to take insights learned from these approaches and scale them, focusing on building local capacity.

“At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we are proud of our growing list of partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa and the impact that our collaborative work is having. Over the past several years, Rwanda has been at the center of our engagement in Africa. This project with IFAD allows us to build upon our well-established relationships in Rwanda and beyond to work towards solutions to the global challenge of achieving food security while using less water,” said Josh Davis, associate vice chancellor for global affairs and senior international officer for the university.

The project will engage the talents of four recent Nebraska alumni and graduates of the CUSP program: Raissa Urujeni, Polly Musayidizi, Natacha Akaliza, and Ferdinand Turatsinze, as well as numerous partners on ground in Rwanda and in the region. 

While current travel restrictions due to the pandemic would appear to be a roadblock for international research, Brozović and his team see it as a healthy challenge. They plan to produce a series of multilingual programs and trainings, using platforms like YouTube and WhatsApp, tapping into the cultural knowledge and digital skillsets of current Rwandan CUSP scholars as well as other partners in each project country. Leveraging these technologies and talent, the team hopes to reach many more people from around the world than they could in face-to-face workshops. 

“This new project is a great opportunity for the institute to reimagine how it operates globally,” said Brozović. “There are some real needs that aren’t being met and audiences that we haven’t really reached until now, and this is a chance for us to explore how we might effectively target and scale our impact.”