From WILL - News Local/State -

U Of I Nets Federal Grant To Produce Soybean Varieties In Africa

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) speaks Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 at the University of Illinois' ACES Library (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

The University of Illinois will spend the next five years partnering with other institutions to improve the soybean crop in African countries.

A five year, $25 million federal grant will enable a team of researchers to produce some of the same varieties of the crop that helped rural economies elsewhere.

The grant comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U of I Agricultural Economist Peter Goldsmith will lead the project. 

Goldsmith said there are several stages to that research, including plant breeding, livestock nutrition, and finding ways to connect growers with processors and markets.

“The entire research team understands the importance, in the case of poverty and malnutrition in Africa, to not sit on the sidelines, but get involved in the best way we know how, as researchers," Goldsmith said.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said the grant to the U of I is part of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative. It aims to cut global poverty and hunger by increasing global agricultural production by 70-percent by the year 2050.

Durbin said there are long-term benefits to this research that go beyond the work in countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Zambia.

“It also promotes the notion that this research will not only apply to exports, but also to our domestic crop," he said. "What we’re going to learn could help American producers, Illinois soybean growers, be even more productive and more profitable.”

Durbin noted nearly 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line, but he also says some of the fastest growing economies on earth are in African countries, and that agriculture is a huge part of an expanding middle class.