Horticulture Innovation Lab Trellis Fund – Elyssa Lewis, UC Davis


I’m Elyssa and I’m a second year graduate
student in International Agricultural Development at UC Davis, where I have also been working
at the Horticulture Innovation Lab as one of the Trellis Fund coordinators for over
the past year. And so this afternoon I am going to talk about Trellis Fund – past, present,
and future. As with most stories, why don’t we start at the beginning? Trellis Fund
was the brainchild of one of my predecessors at what was then HORT CRSP, Peter Shapland.
He identified a key bottleneck in the extension of new horticultural information and technologies
which was that small local development organizations capable of doing great work were frequently
being overlooked for funding simply because they were not competitive for larger grants,
limiting their ability to provide these much needed services to their communities.
So Trellis was designed specifically to target these kinds of organizations with the goal
of providing funding for short-term projects as well as building organizational capacity
to write competitive grants in the future. But Trellis is not only a grant-making program.
Another key part is that winning projects are also matched with a US graduate student
who has relevant expertise from either UC Davis, University of Florida, North Carolina
State, or University of Hawaii. Here the goal is twofold. On the one hand, these students
are the agricultural experts of tomorrow and through their universities, as well as the
Horticulture Innovation Lab, they are able to tap into a wealth of information and resources
that these in-country organizations would otherwise not have access to, which in many
ways is kind of the real prize of this program. But on the other hand, by exposing US graduate
students to the rewards and challenges of working on projects in developing countries,
Trellis Fund aims to broaden their career horizons, hopefully encouraging them to apply
their expertise to these sorts of issues in the future. But overall Trellis gives them
an experience that will inform the way they approach the rest of their lives. For example,
one of the first Trellis students, Mark Lundy, recently wrote about how his experience working
on a tomato project in Malawi opened his eyes to the simultaneously global and local nature
of agriculture. Seeing the knowledge, passion, and commitment of the people in the organization
he worked with, inspired him to become a similar expert in California where he now works in
Cooperative Extension. More recently, in the last round of Trellis, graduate student Dev
Paudel from the University of Florida worked with Kayaba Management Foundation in Ghana
to build research capacity in horticulture. While this 6-month project is now over, Dev
continues to work remotely with Kayaba towards the goal of publishing a journal article based
on their robust analysis of farmer needs. Now to impress you with some numbers. To date
we have awarded 52 projects in 16 countries spanning 3 continents. From seed-saving in
Guatemala to IPM in Bangladesh, these projects have engaged approximately 6,420 farmer participants,
71% of which are women, developed 180 demonstration plots, and conducted 184 training and extension
meetings. But this is what we have already done. What are we doing now? Where are we
going? Well at the moment we are actually in the process of reviewing proposals for
our 5th round of Trellis. Some of you are actually involved in this process. But when
we sat down to write this latest RFP we really had to think to ourselves, “What
is it that we want Trellis to be? What makes a good Trellis project? And what did we learn
from this last round that we can apply to improve the program going forward?” One
of the biggest challenges we faced this last year was communication between Trellis Fund
and the in-country organizations. I’ll have to admit that we got one too many emails from
students saying that their organization had asked them about what the deal was with funding
as opposed to contacting us directly. I take this as an example of how the system we set
up, albeit unintentionally, was actually placing a little bit more emphasis on building relationships
with students than with the organizations themselves. So in this new phase we are trying
to balance this out. We altered our timeline for requesting proposals so that we can more
deeply review the projects and get in direct contact with the most promising ones. Our
aim is to create a strong line of communication and understanding between our awarded organizations
and the Trellis Fund team, so that by the time a student is matched we are confident
that they will be able to effectively engage with the organization, maximizing the probability
of a successful collaboration. We also hope that this will lead to even stronger partnerships
between these organizations and the Horticulture Innovation Lab in the future. But there is
more to be done. For example, Cambodia is one of the Feed the Future countries that
Trellis has not yet worked in. So I actually welcome this opportunity we have together
now to discuss with any or all of you how Trellis Fund can help local organizations
here in Cambodia in further extending horticultural science and knowledge. Thank you.

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