The award, which builds on a previous grant of $26.7 million from the foundation, will enable McKnight to broaden its focus on the integration of legumes into the cropping systems of Mali, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Since 2008, the Minneapolis-based foundation has been working in Niger, Kenya, Malawi, and Mozambique.
According to the foundation, legumes are critical to African agriculture, both as a source of dietary protein and as a contributing factor to more fertile soils, and because they tend to be more adaptable than other crops to drought, low nutrient levels, and other soil and climatic extremes. Working through "communities of practice" that geographically cluster crop research projects in the natural and social sciences, McKnight has helped develop new approaches to agroecological intensification; operationalized an integrated framework for program planning, monitoring, and evaluation; and worked to strengthen research practices and foster new research leaders in Africa.
"I am especially excited that this renewed support will allow us to build on advances from our first Gates Foundation grant, to expand our legumes-related research across the full range of linked activities, from development to dinner. It's critical that we deepen our understanding, because legumes may well hold the key for improving ecologically sound farming practices that, in turn, will improve both soil health and human health," said McKnight Foundation International Program director Jane Maland Cady. "Equally important to me is our continued, close partnership with the Gates Foundation's dedicated and insightful staff. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, and our continuing programmatic partnership with the Gates Foundation is a particularly appreciated opportunity to make a positive difference for smallholder farmers and their families."