Charting Change
Charting Change
Charting Change
Charting Change

Agriculture and Environment

A decade of improving food security around the world

Five ways the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund transformed lives

Posted by Brian Owens on December 18, 2018

A woman checks the health of a flowering potato field in El Socorro, Colombia, where a Canadian International Food Security Research Fund project helped develop new varieties of healthier yellow potatoes. (Photo: IDRC/Bartay)

For almost 10 years, the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund has been supporting projects to improve food security in the developing world. Launched in 2009 in the aftermath of the food price crisis brought on by the 2008 recession, the $124.5 million program, which is funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada, has supported 39 projects, reaching an estimated 78 million people. “Our projects addressed not only food availability, but also access and quality, with a focus on smallholders, neglected crops, women and youth,” says Renaud De Plaen, IDRC’s program leader for agriculture and food security.

With the program coming to an end in December 2018, here’s a look at five of its biggest successes.

Family Farms for the Future – Cambodia
This project aimed to improve nutrition and provide income for subsistence farmers in Cambodia by offering training and materials to improve their small farms. Participants chose one of four options: backyard gardens; gardens plus fishponds; gardens plus poultry; or gardens plus fish and poultry. To give them a stake in the success of their farms, participants contributed 30 per cent of the set-up costs.

Nearly 3,700 households in four provinces took part. They produced significantly more fruit, large fish, eggs and birds than the control group, as well as a greater variety of vegetables. They also significantly reduced incidents of zinc, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin A deficiency in women and children.

The project’s findings will help inform the Cambodian government’s next five-year National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition.

Scaling up production of indigenous vegetables – West Africa
Two earlier projects had developed innovative ways to improve cultivation of indigenous vegetables in Nigeria and Benin, through fertilizer micro-dosing and improved water management. The goal of this project was to find ways to increase the adoption of these techniques throughout the region.

The MicroVeg Innovation Platform developed by the project reached almost 340,000 farmers in the two countries, increasing the amount of land under cultivation, especially by women, as well as increasing yields and income. It also helped develop new ways of processing the food, to create value-added products and business opportunities for rural farmers.

Double-fortified salt – India
Salt fortified with iodine is already common around the world. Researchers in Canada and India spent almost two decades developing, testing and scaling up ways to fortify salt with iron as well, to help fight anemia and iron deficiency, the most common form of malnutrition in the world.

Once the salt was ready, IDRC helped get regulatory approval in India, and supported the development of manufacturing and distribution in the country. “We got it into the public distribution system, and by the end of the project it was going to more than 50 million consumers,” says Wendy Manchur, a program officer for the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

New varieties of yellow potatoes – Colombia
Yellow potatoes are a staple crop in Colombia, but they tend to have low yields and are susceptible to late blight disease. So farmers, breeders and scientists teamed up to develop three new varieties with 40 per cent higher yields, double the protein and 20 per cent more iron and zinc, and resistance to late blight disease.

The project also established seven groups of rural entrepreneurs that work together to produce high-quality potato seeds that are sold to potato growers. This has led to 16 per cent of the production of yellow potatoes in the country being replaced with the new varieties, which are now available to more than six million consumers.

Fermented Food for Life – Uganda
Probiotic yogurt and other fermented foods can help improve weight gain in malnourished adults and children, reduce skin rashes, fight diarrhea, enhance immunity in HIV patients and reduce absorption of heavy metals and aflatoxins in women and children. But in Africa, most yogurt production is focused on urban markets or only occurs on a small scale because of a lack of shelf-stable bacterial cultures.

That has changed with the development of an affordable freeze-dried bacteria that doesn’t require refrigeration and enables local production of up to 100 litres of yogurt within 24 hours. IDRC helped develop an innovative “pro-poor” business model to support local production facilities and created new markets for farmers’ milk, new jobs and additional income, primarily for women and youth.

Nearly 260,000 children and adults have begun consuming healthy probiotic foods in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Teachers: Download the workbook that accompanies this article
Highlight the amazing work that the International Development Research Centre is doing around the world to your students. Each booklet contains a copy of the blog post and several different activities to help students understand the critical role Canadian work is playing in developing nations.

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This is part of an ongoing series of stories on international development projects supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, presented in partnership with Canadian Geographic. The stories appear online once a month at

The International Development Research Centre has been a key part of Canada's aid program since 1970, and invests in knowledge, innovation and solutions to improve lives and livelihoods in the developing world. Learn more at