That’s right, we said it — crop improvement and plant breeding are not the same thing. We may be breeding plants, but crop improvement represents a much broader continuum of activities at the intersection of agricultural, life and social sciences. Like plant breeding, crop improvement has the ultimate goal of generating useful germplasm, yes, but germplasm that increases equitable benefits to those who are most marginalized. It is this qualifier that is often overlooked, and it is why at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement, we decided to do things differently.
Feed the Future Innovation Labs are dynamic hubs led by U.S. universities that work to reduce global hunger, poverty and malnutrition. There are more than 20 such labs across the country focused on specific needs. When the U.S. Agency for International Development put out a call in 2019 for a new Innovation Lab to improve varieties of crops as drivers of productivity, growth, resilience, and nutrition, we knew this was our chance to make a holistic impact. Our team of experts led by Cornell put together a proposal to create an Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement with the mission to equip National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) with the power to define their unique goals and drive advancement in crop improvement to reduce malnutrition, hunger and provide equitable benefits to women and youth.