The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), awarded Alcorn State University over $1 million for capacity-building efforts related to research and programming needs.

USDA awarded $33 million to support efforts at 19 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The investment will support 82 research, Extension, and education projects across the United States designated as part of NIFA’s 1890 Capacity Building Grants Program for America’s 1890 Land-grant Universities.

“The College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (CAAS) has intentionally sought funds to support program efforts in the state and beyond,” said Dr. Dexter Wakefield I, interim dean of CAAS. “The USDA has established capacity-building grants designed to strengthen the ability of land-grant institutions to conduct research and extension activities benefiting communities of 50,000 or less. These grants assist us by providing resources to improve our organizational effectiveness, research, and outreach. This year, we were funded for five projects for $1,139,885. I commend the efforts of our faculty and staff for helping the university “grow” its impact and accomplish its mission and goals.”

Dr. Avis Joseph, assistant professor of Agricultural Education, was granted $149,860 for her study “Enhancing Agricultural Education for the 21st Century Global Economy.”

Chair and Professor of Breeding Dr. Victor Njiti received $589,993 to execute his study titled “Crop Genetic Enhancement Through Genome Editing Technology and Future Agricultural Leadership Cultivation.”

“In collaboration with Ohio State University,” said Dr. Njiti, “we plan to develop our capacity in regard to genetics and genetic techniques as well as provide Alcorn students with opportunities for hands-on experiences in these fields.

“We are proud to bring new tools to plant breeding, such as gene editing tools to modify plant genetics,” said Dr. Njiti.

Dr. Njiti’s research focuses mainly on improving the nutritional value of sweet potatoes and watermelon.

“We are improving the shape and appearance of these foods on the market while also increasing how much protein you can pack into them to make them healthier foods–sweet potatoes are more nutritious than regular potatoes but low in proteins and vitamin A; we aim to change that,” said Dr. Njiti.

Dr. Franklin Chukwuma, associate director for Extension, was granted $249,976 for his study “Introducing and Integrating Stevia into Rural Mississippi Farm Operations to Improve Community Health and Income.”

Stevia is a zero-calorie and natural sweetener suited for small acreage production. Along with Stevia’s medicinal benefits, growing the plant will create economic opportunities for farmers with limited resources in rural Mississippi counties.

“Herbal medicine is growing in popularity in the U.S. The retail sales of herbal dietary supplements alone suspended $8 billion in 2017,” said Chukwuma. “Therefore, we propose introducing the low-maintenance, high-value, and low-investment medicinal plant, Stevia.”

The USDA believes these research investments will strengthen the quality and diversity of the nation’s higher-education workforce, bolster research and knowledge delivery systems, and equip 1890 Land-grant universities with the resources needed to better address emerging challenges and create new opportunities.

“The work these universities will take on as a result of this funding have ripple effects far beyond the walls of their laboratories and classrooms,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “Through this investment, the Biden-Harris administration is helping deliver real-life, applicable solutions to make our food system stronger while at the same time inspiring the next generation of students and scientists who will help us meet tomorrow’s agricultural challenges.”