Hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to human health worldwide—greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to the United Nations World Food Program. There are 795 million undernourished people in the world today. That means that about one in nine people does not get enough food to lead a healthy, active life.
But University of Georgia researchers are leading an initiative that may help alleviate some of that suffering. The Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL)—headquartered in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development—unites scientists from around the world to help farmers in developing nations grow better quality, calorie-rich peanuts, which may help break the vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition.
Growing peanuts can be a difficult, sometimes dangerous process. They are particularly susceptible to mycotoxins— harmful chemicals produced by molds that grow on the crops. These toxins can cause liver damage, so researchers must work closely with farmers to ensure that they do what is necessary to keep their harvests safe.
Peggy Ozias-Akins, a PMIL researcher and professor of horticulture at UGA, has helped create peanut varieties that are resistant to fungal contamination and produce fewer allergens.
Dave Hoisington, second from the left, is director of the PMIL initiative. He and other researchers make frequent trips abroad to see first-hand what problems farmers face and what scientists can do to help. Here he tours a small farm in Bugondo, Uganda, where peanuts are increasingly becoming a cash crop.
“Initially, I wanted to be a doctor or a dental surgeon,” said researcher David Okello, top row, holding infant. “But I ended up in the agricultural field, and I think that was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Okello is the head of Uganda’s national peanut research program and a PMIL partner. He has dedicated much of his professional career to the development of new peanut varieties that are drought-tolerant and pest-resistant. Thanks largely to his help, small-scale farmers like this family in Uganda are making peanuts a profitable crop.