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Congratulations to the 2013 BREAD Ideas Challenge Winners!

From among hundreds of submissions from researchers at all academic levels from around the world, these thirteen individuals were selected for their entries that articulated novel or under-studied scientific challenges facing smallholder farmers in the developing world. Expert judges in a variety of disciplines selected a group of Finalists using a Blind Judging format in which only the country of origin and the text of the entry were known to the judges. From among those Finalists, a panel of BREAD Program Officers selected the following twelve Challenges as winners of the 2013 BREAD Ideas Challenge!

Winner: Aaron Miller

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

  • Background: Smallholder farmers who feed their livestock on forage plants risk exposing those animals to potentially lethal levels of toxic plant secondary compounds (PSCs). However, many PSCs can be degraded by gut bacteria from mammalian herbivores.
  • Challenge: Identify novel functions offered by gut biota that could be transplanted into smallholder farmers' domesticated livestock, reintroducing toxin tolerance and improving animal health and grazing options.

Winner: Matthew Wallenstein

Assistant Professor, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

  • Background: Drought is a well-known and frequent challenge faced by smallholder farmers across the developing world. Considerable efforts have gone toward developing drought-tolerant crops, but the microbes living in the soil, which supply nutrients, prevent pathogens, and promote crop health, have not yet received this sort of attention in the context of drought tolerance.
  • Challenge: Develop knowledge, methods, and tools to identify drought-productive microbiomes and facilitate their use by smallholder farmers.

Winner: Andrew Waterhouse

Professor, University of California, Davis, CA, USA

  • Background:Smallholder farmers are challenged by post-harvest crop losses. Unlike larger-scale farmers, they may not have access to the resources or infrastructure (e.g. electricity) to combat these losses. Preserved agricultural products reduce post-harvest loss through indigenous fermentation processes, but monitoring these processes is costly and lack of management results in high spoilage rates and unpredictable crop quality.
  • Challenge: Create a path toward inexpensive, low-tech techniques for smallholder farmers to monitor processing conditions and microbial populations, improving product quality and reducing post-harvest losses in preserved agricultural products.

Winner: Jim Ward

Adjunct Professor, Wilmington College, Wilmington, OH, USA

  • Background:Smallholder farmers are always in need of new successful, indigenous crops. Wild roots are a significant food source during famines, and these roots may also be sources of medicinal, industrial, and pesticide compounds that can't be economically extracted due to small root sizes.
  • Challenge: Develop means for "root swelling" of small wild roots, leading the way to the creation of hundreds of new root crops that could improve the nutrition and incomes of developing world farmers.

Winner: Olav Rueppell

Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC, USA

  • Background:Smallholder farmers often must subsist on small areas of nutrient-impoverished land. Ironically, industrialization has released the building blocks of these same nutrients into the air in the form of aerial pollutants. Some plants (e.g. epiphytes) can make use of these aerial nutrients, but most of these have low growth rates or are not agriculturally useful.
  • Challenge: Develop knowledge and means to create or modify crops to make use of aerial nutrients, increasing smallholder farmers’ yields in nutrient-deficient land while reducing their dependence on chemical fertilizers.

Winner: Robert Boyle Onzima

Research Scientist, National Agricultural Research Organization, Entebbe, Uganda

  • Background:Gastrointestinal (GI) parasites affect livestock production all over the world, with agricultural losses in developing countries due to GI parasites in the millions of dollars annually. Existing anthelmintic drugs have been rendered ineffective by the development of drug resistance.
  • Challenge: Devise alternate strategies for reducing the effect of GI parasites on livestock productivity.

Winner: Dongjin Kim

Professor, Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania

  • Background:Striga is a parasitic weed and a significant agricultural pest in Africa; once it has taken hold of a crop plant, it is nearly impossible to remove. Efforts to eliminate or hold off Striga have so far been unsuccessful. However, Striga may have alternative agricultural and/or economic uses.
  • Challenge: Devise a means for converting Striga biomass collected from infested fields into an economically useful agricultural byproduct.

Winner: Fidalis Mujibi

Scientist, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya

Winner: George Perry

Professor, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD, USA

  • Background:Smallholder dairy farmers suffer productivity losses through long calving intervals and lack of access to artificial insemination. A major cause of this lack of access is the current requirement for cryopreservation of sperm, which is costly and complex in the developing world.
  • Challenge: Develop knowledge and means for a cold-chain-free artificial insemination process, making this process available to communities without infrastructure and for tropical cattle prone to silent heat.

Winner: Curtis Frederick

Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

  • Background:Many smallholder farmers do not have access to accurate and inexpensive soil sampling, despite the fact that such access is one of the foundations of productive agriculture.
  • Challenge: Develop knowledge, techniques, and local resources (e.g. reagents) to offer inexpensive soil sampling to smallholder farmers, making use of local technology (e.g. proliferation of cell phones) as well as local practices.

Winner: Olivia Wilkins

Postdoctoral Researcher, New York University, New York, NY, USA

  • Background:Smallholder farmers are challenged by insufficient soil nutrients. The microbial composition in and around the plant – the soil microbiome - modulates plants' access to and uptake of nutrients, making the microbiome a potentially effective mechanism to optimize plant nutrient uptake and improve agricultural productivity.
  • Challenge: Develop means to manipulate microbial soil populations, creating "tunable" soil microbiomes that could enhance plant growth under poor edaphic conditions.

Winner: Jeff Elhai

Research Faculty, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

  • Background:Inorganic nitrogenous fertilizer represents a considerable expense to smallholder farmers, forcing many to labor under nutrient-poor conditions. Biological nitrogen fixation eliminates the need for these fertilizers, although this solution is presently only available for legumes. However, biological nitrogen fixation may be possible in other smallholder crops through introduction of a nitrogen-fixing organelle.
  • Challenge: Enable the creation of a nitrogen-fixing organelle capable of functioning and persisting in smallholder crops.

Winner: Sara Thomas

Postdoctoral Researcher, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA

  • Background:Smallholder farmers use vegetative propagation as a primary method of seed production for many food-security staples, such as cassava and sweet potato. These seeds come from uncertified sources, laden with pathogens, causing low yields and "seed degeneration" over time.
  • Challenge: Improve our understanding of the biology, epidemiology, and management of vegetative propagation and "seed degeneration" to better support smallholder farmers.