University is cream of the crop in sustainable agricultural engineering

By Lilly Mashayek

Researchers in the University’s department of agricultural and biological engineering will use a recently awarded grant to better nutritional security around the world by researching agricultural practices.

The University has been chosen as the lead institution of the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium for the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, or SIIL, and received a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The grant will be funded over four years and used to improve the food and nutritional security of farmers. It will focus on improving tools used by women on these farms and sustainable means of farming through agricultural mechanization. K.C. Ting, professor and head of ABE, said an additional $300,000 to $400,000 will be added to the grant from the Archer Daniels Midland Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss making the grant total more than $5 million.

“Women have some of the tools right now, but they are not empowered,” said Ting who is also the co-principal investigator of the project. “This grant will help us build upon what we’ve already started.”

A concept note was submitted to SIIL outlining the proposal for the project in order to receive the grant Alan Hansen, ABE professor and principal investigator of the project, said. Ting submitted the note along with colleagues from Michigan State University, Kansas State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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“We were looking for the collaborative nature of various partners involved,” said Vara Prasad, director of SIIL at Kansas State University and director of the project. “The type of innovations that Illinois proposed were very valuable, they had good team value, and they took into consideration which countries to work in.”

The project will focus on six countries: Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

“We would like to see in the next four years that the team will develop mechanization tools, which are directly valuable and used by small local farmers in local countries,” Prasad said. “These tools need to be built in the host country, so that they can be manufactured and built there so that they are sustainable.”

The project will also aim to establish innovation hubs in four of the six countries, which will help the sustainability of the project.

“U of I identified entry point organizations in each country which involved local universities and (non-governmental organizations),” Prasad said.

Some students from those host countries may be able to come to the University to receive training on how to sustain the work once the project is over. Ting said that this project could lead to a collaboration between University students and students from the host countries in classes and labs at the University, or even abroad in the host countries.

Other University faculty involved in the project include Prasanta Kalita, professor in ABE and director of ADMI, and Alex Winter-Nelson, a professor in ACES and director of the ACES office of international programs.

“We are at the perfect position to really make an impact,” Hansen said.

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