Editor's note: This story has been updated to add the names of Virginia Tech’s collaborators, which were omitted from the original version of the story.

Laouali Amadou, an entomology graduate student from the University of Maradi in Niger and a collaborator with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management at Virginia Tech, has won the prestigious Award for Scientific Excellence.

Amadou’s work could prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in crop destruction in Niger, according to agricultural economists.

Granted by the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD), the annual award goes to a student researcher who works for a USAID Feed the Future Lab. Winners are chosen for their creative work in three areas: sustainable agricultural improvements, food security and economic growth, and communication of results to communities.

The work must be implemented without bringing harm to the environment. Amadou’s award-winning work involved biological control of Niger’s pearl millet head miner. The release of parasitoids to combat the pest is already being implemented on small farms in the nation. 

The project is led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and funded by Kansas State University’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet. Virginia Tech’s Muni Muniappan, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, has mentored Amadou along his educational and professional journey. 

George Norton is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and a collaborator with Virginia Tech’s Innovation Lab as well as Kansas State’s. He said that even if only 15 percent of the farmers in Niger adopt the use of beneficial insects, the gains totaled over 20 years would be nearly $300 million.

“There are 24 Innovation Labs, and several students participate,” Muniappan said. “It is special that a student from a developing country received this award.”

During February and March, Amadou spent several weeks at Virginia Tech completing his thesis on the pearl millet head miner. The time at Virginia Tech helped him improve his skills in writing a scientific paper, collecting data, and using evidence to support his work, Amadou said.

The inch-long pearl millet head miner can reduce crop yields of Niger’s staple crop by a devastating 85 percent. With only seven entomologists in Niger, Amadou’s work makes significant contributions to a growing body of research.

“To me, the BIFAD award is only for senior scientists in developed countries,” Amadou said, expressing hope that the award would inspire farmers’ to “trust in technologies that we will provide to them” and increase the adoption of biological control methods.

The Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech is a team of scientists and communicators working to reduce crop damage in developing countries using holistic methods. The lab collaborates with Kansas State University’s Millet and Sorghum Innovation Lab, which provides funding for Amadou’s research.

Amadou credited his Virginia Tech work with helping him find ways to improve food security in Niger. Personal benefits accrued as well: “Communication is important in science, and my English has improved,” he said.

Amadou will accept the award in Washington, D.C., in May. When he completes his thesis work on the biological control of the pearl millet head miner, he will become Niger’s eighth entomologist.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management is a project of the Center for International Research, Education, and Development, which is part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Sara Hendery