A Global Hub for
Sorghum and Millet
SMIL creates and supports food systems and entrepreneurial opportunities to reduce poverty and hunger in West and East Africa and Haiti.
SMIL conducts extensive research and develops new technologies to improve the resiliency of sorghum and millet production in semi-arid regions.
Through inclusive development, SMIL invests in the next generation of private and public leaders in sorghum and millet food systems.
Our national teams focus research on demand-responsive programming based on their intimate knowledge of local context and opportunities. The national teams work with global research partners, in-country technicians, farmer cooperatives, end users, newly trained leaders, and government officials to solve the most pressing agricultural and economic development issues.
We appreciate the opportunities for young scientists to receive training in the U.S. A primary challenge was how we can build a community of young scientists who can take over the research with new priorities and with new tools to advance it. And in the first phase of the SMIL, I think people did great at training young scientists, and those young scientists also are hired in our national agriculture research systems. So, they can take over the research. And I think this was the best investment we have made.
SMIL is out-performing the promises we were given in the beginning, as far as training local students and young researchers from local regions. We are giving those young researchers a perspective that should be communicated.
What is really exciting to see is the students that have come through the program and their excitement and the passion they bring to the research projects. These students feel a sense of accomplishment as they contribute to scientific discoveries. They reach their full potential and carry that passion forward, wanting to mentor students in the future.
I want to be able to accept new students with open arms, to have the roadmap already written down with clear objectives so they can come in behind me and continue to push the work forward. As much work as I can do now to help those coming in on the SMIL project behind me is what I'm looking to do.
I commend SMIL for the attention that is paid to capturing lessons learned and packaging them and sharing them with diverse audiences. Without that, all of the research work would not necessarily be applied to improve the human condition. So, it's really important that those efforts are sustained.
Our network of global teams is one of SMIL's strengths. The team is working on research, but is also linked to real developmental outcomes in these countries. Supporting these teams is one of the highlights of working with SMIL.
So we consider the farmers as key partners and they have responsibilities in the implementation of the trial. Also, they are involved in the extension and adoption of those trials and technology coming in. Sometimes we travel and visit them in the field. And if we have a workshop, a meeting, we also invite them in. Like recently, when we have the SMIL annual review meeting, all of them came to Niamey and they have some lead farmers that were with us also at the meeting. And we exchange feedback, like their concerns and the challenges they are facing in terms of trying some of the varieties and what they have seen. We also give them some responses and also orientation about how to use those varieties in the field.
What really stands out to me is the local capacity development efforts that SMIL does, and then the engagement with stakeholders to make sure that information is being shared. So I really appreciate that SMIL is pairing American expertise and ingenuity with the best and brightest globally and training students in developing countries and the U.S. By doing that, we're ensuring that the next generation of food system leaders are equipped and empowered to address the food security challenges that we know are coming tomorrow as well. So I think that's one of the most inspiring things about the program is we're not only seeing results today, but we're building for better systems in the future.
During my Ph.D., I had the privilege to be enrolled in a very competitive and prestigious program at the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI). This opportunity was made possible through the funding from USAID/SMIL that provided me the resources to get trained, acquire knowledge and apply it while conducting research. Through the USAID/SMIL support, I was able to gain access to a professional network with scientists from across the globe. I was able to attend conferences, give presentations, as well as receive mentorship from other plant breeders. I also had the opportunity to be a visiting scholar at Purdue University, where I worked on part of my doctoral research activities and developed collaborations, which helped to start my career as a plant breeder after graduating. In addition, I was given the opportunity to co-lead a project immediately after graduation. Overall, the support provided by USAID/SMIL was the foundation and catalyst for my career as a plant breeder.
Sorghum and millet are resilient crops vital to vulnerable communities across the Sahel region and throughout Africa.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet is known as the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab, SMIL. SMIL is a continuation of INTSORMIL and supports research and development for smallholder farmers to increase sorghum and millet production while training the next generation of scientists and researchers within National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS).
With a partner network of universities and NARS, SMIL-supported students can pursue graduate studies in various disciplines, from plant breeding and genomics to agriculture economics, food processing and other fields. Nearly 100 students have received their academic training through SMIL since its inception in 2013.
SMIL plant breeding and production systems management projects focus on supporting smallholder farmers and farmer cooperatives to produce climate-smart sorghum and pearl millet crops adapted to ever-changing production environments. Food processing and value addition projects strengthen demand and markets. Women entrepreneurs are being trained to produce and market nutrient-rich food products targeting children and improved food staples for the broader local communities.
Sorghum & millet represent 70% of the caloric intake among vulnerable populations in the Sahel region.
“In Senegal, and across West and Central Africa, sorghum and pearl millet are primary cultivated staple foods. In terms of the surface area of cultivation, they are the first crops that we cultivate in Senegal. Sorghum and millet are also staple foods in the region. These crops are important for women who are breastfeeding and in traditional dishes.” - Dr. Ndjido Kane, Senegal Country Coordinator.
“Our target is to create an opportunity for the farmers to have better sorghum and millet varieties that can withstand drought and various biotic and abiotic stresses in general. Because we want them to use that for a long period of time, or until they’re replaced by other varieties. We have to engage the farmers from the very start of the research. This helps them feel like they are part of the research and are more apt to adopt the technology. If we just do the research, and then after it's complete, we tell them to go back and plant the new variety, you may not see those varieties in later years as adoption will be lower. So, we want to make sure that we introduce the farmers to the technology in the beginning, so that’s why we engage them from the start.” - Dr. Alemu Tirfessa, Ethiopia Country Coordinator.