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Improving Agricultural Productivity in Uganda

Standing next to her healthy oxen, Grace Opono explains how new conservation techniques have doubled her maize yield over just two seasons. She is also earning a second income by providing tilling services to neighbors with her oxen. She tells me she can now afford to pay the school fees for her children and reinvest money in her land.  This story of achievement shows that USDA’s Food for Progress Program is making a difference.

On a recent trip to Uganda, I saw first-hand the difference USDA-funded projects are making in people’s lives. The Food for Progress Program, administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, helps developing countries and emerging democracies introduce and expand free enterprise in the agricultural sector. U.S. agricultural commodities donated to recipient countries are sold on the local market and the proceeds are used to support agricultural, economic or infrastructure development programs administered by government agencies and private volunteer organizations (PVOs).

Scientists Discover Gene to Combat Devastating Wheat Rust

USDA scientists and their partners have found a molecular tool that will help control wheat stem rust, a fungal disease threatening much of the world’s wheat supply.

First reported in 1999 in Uganda, wheat stem rust--caused by the Ug99 pathogen--is a devastating disease in several countries in Africa and the Middle East where losses can be up to 70 percent. Many experts predict this specific strain could spread rapidly, causing a wheat shortage affecting food security worldwide. Ninety percent of the wheat grown worldwide is susceptible, so if no preventive action is taken, it could cause wheat shortages and affect food security.

Why Open Data Matters: G-8 and African Nations Increase Open Data for Food Security

Recently, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture here in Washington.  As head of the U.S. Delegation, the Secretary noted that “Data is quickly becoming one of the most important commodities in agriculture,” and encouraged the sharing of data to magnify its power. Hundreds of individuals attended from around the world and thousands more watched the event as it was streamed on the Internet. In this blog, Katherine Townsend, Special Assistant for Engagement at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gives an example of how open data can improve crop yield and help producers keep more of the income generated by their labor.

Wheat Genome Sequenced in Breakthrough for Global Food Security

The Journal Nature today published a paper reporting that scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), as part of an international team, have completed a shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome. The achievement is expected to increase wheat yields, help feed the world and speed up development of wheat varieties with enhanced nutritional value. Wheat is one of the world’s “big three” crops, along with rice and corn, upon which the world’s growing population depends for nutrition.

Sequencing the genome of wheat was unusually daunting because the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, and has 94,000 to 96,000 genes.  This sequencing effort involved the identification of essentially all of those genes and mapping their relationship to other genes.  Previously, the size and complexity of the wheat genome had been significant barriers to performing a complete analysis, but the scientists overcame that problem by developing a new strategy that compared wheat genetic sequences to known grass genes, such as from rice and barley.

Bridging the Gap on Agricultural Research and Development with the Private Sector

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with 70 private sector representatives at the first Feed the Future Public-Private Partnership Technical Forum, hosted jointly by USDA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of State at the White House Conference Center. We discussed potential partnerships to increase agricultural growth in developing countries. Then we rolled up our sleeves got to work aligning investments and connecting individuals and activities.

Agricultural Science: More Than You Think

As we reflect in celebration of USDA’s 150th anniversary, it’s easy to take pride in the problem-solving abilities of agricultural scientists since 1862.

The challenges in America have been great, including the Dust Bowl, wars, human health threats, and attacks on crops and animals from pests. Researchers have met these challenges and will continue to do so, while enabling growers to produce abundant food that is safe to eat.

Ugandan Dairy Cooperatives Quadruple Sales and Create Jobs with Help from the Food for Progress Program

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack today announced that USDA will donate more than $145 million in international assistance under the Food for Progress Program in fiscal year 2010. This figure will benefit more than 3.4 million people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East by providing access to new opportunities for farmers and rural communities.