Virginia Tech has won a $2.5 million contract to manage a program that will promote agriculture-led growth, increase rural incomes, and reduce hunger in Mali.

The three-year program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mali mission and will be managed by Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development.

The program is an associate award to the Virginia Tech-managed Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program, which has had a presence in West Africa since 1993.

One focus of the program will be improving tomato production, an integral part of the rice-based agriculture in Mali. The crop rotation of rice-tomato is often found in the region, with rice providing a family sustenance, and tomatoes providing cash.

Tomato is the single most valuable horticultural crop in the world. By introducing a package of agricultural strategies, including the no-host period technique — not growing tomatoes or peppers for two months so as to reduce the virus populations — and promoting improved tomato varieties, the program expects to improve production of this high-value crop.

The project will also promote quality assurance among small farmers and build sustainable national capacity for pesticide residue analysis as a means to meeting international agricultural trade standards and reducing sanitary barriers to trade.

In addition, the project will provide pesticide safety training to Ministry of Agriculture personnel, extension agents and farmers.

“Winning this award is a testament to the good work we have already done in the area,” says S. K. De Datta, associate vice president for international affairs, director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development and administrative principal investigator for the project. “We look forward to continuing and expanding our work in Mali and furthering our partnerships with Malian collaborators.”

The program begins this month.

This makes a total of $32.5 million garnered by the Office of International Research, Education, and Development in donor-funded projects in 2009 and $142.5 million since 1993.

The office is part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, which links the university to the private sector, government agencies, non-government organizations, individuals, and communities in Virginia, the nation, and the world.