Research News

Global Innovation Challenge features focus on food systems

2016 Global innovation Challenge.

The inaugural Global Innovation Challenge in 2016 focused on developing solutions to the sanitation needs of schoolchildren in low- and middle-income settings worldwide. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published May 17, 2018 This content is archived.


There are more than 500 million families that farm on fewer than 2 acres of land around the world. These smallholder farmers — who rely largely on family labor — cultivate over 50 percent of the crops that are consumed in people’s homes. This year’s Global Innovation Challenge at UB focuses on cultivating equity for those who grow our food.

The weeklong workshop is open to students from UB and other U.S. and international universities across all majors, from anthropology and architecture, to English and engineering, political science to public health, and all levels.

GIC participants will engage in team-building activities, and work with international experts and UB faculty to develop social, technological, business, educational and policy innovations to address significant and persistent global health challenges.

The focus for this year’s event, happening May 21-25 in 403 Hayes Hall, South Campus, is developing innovative strategies to improve the health, livelihoods and environments of smallholder farmers — in turn, cultivating food equity across the Global South.

The Global Innovation Challenge, through a partnership of the UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will provide students with context and real-world research ideas that address challenges the FAO works to mitigate.

Jorge Fonseca, programme adviser for the Food Systems Strategic Programme, will give the charge to students on May 21 and will serve as a judge. Students will have the opportunity to interact directly with the FAO and other international partners as they develop research proposals.

Through the Global Innovation Challenge, participants will also have the opportunity to:

  • Learn about the life experiences and challenges smallholder farmers face.
  • Partner with faculty experts and international professionals.
  • Advance their creative problem-solving and collaboration skills.
  • Compete for funding to further their ideas.

Context for this year’s challenge

Smallholder farms provide at least 50 percent of the agricultural output for domestic consumption in most low- and middle-income countries.

Yet, they withstand the worst food insecurity, especially in the Global South. Limited access to capital, markets, land, technology and training, as well as political stressors, gender inequities and, more recently, climate change, amplify the vulnerability of smallholder farm families.

Historically, top-down policy efforts have been the primary strategy for addressing the challenges smallholder farmers experience. This approach neglects the complexity and localized nature of urban and regional food systems. Producers who farm in different contexts face different challenges.

An alternative approach is farmer-centered: learning from and building capacity among farmers in order to achieve practical and sustainable solutions to meet the consumption demands of the world’s population and the farmers themselves. Nevertheless, with an increasing policy emphasis on large-scale agricultural production, innovative strategies are needed to support and empower smallholder farmers.

Learn more about research related to smallholder farmers and food systems at

This year’s Global Innovation Challenge expert fellows will help workshop participants better understand the issue. The experts are:

Tanveer Ahmad Dar, state project manager for J&K State Rural Livelihoods Mission for the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. He has led many programs in Kashmir on the issues of livelihoods, children’s rights, mental health, education and disaster responses, and has been actively engaged in many initiatives on governance and people’s rights. His research has focused on understanding the complexities of public health, food security and education in the context of long-term conflict in Kashmir using a social determinants perspective.

Biraj Patnaik, regional director (South Asia) for Amnesty International and also the principal adviser to the Commissioners to the Supreme Court in the Right to Food case. He has been responsible for the oversight of food programs of the government of India on behalf of the court for the past 10 years. He was part of the lobbying, campaigning and advocacy efforts for the landmark National Food Security Act in India.

Jim Sumberg, an agriculturalist by training with more than 25 years of experience working on small-scale farming systems and agricultural research policy in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. A key research interest has been the dynamics of change within agricultural systems. More recently, Sumberg has worked on the agricultural development potential of “home-grown school feeding,” the changing global food system and the growth of interest in “local” food within the UK.

Jorge M. Fonseca, programme adviser for the Food Systems Strategic Programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In this capacity he provides expertise to member states in different areas related to food systems, including activities pertaining to FAO’s Urban Food Agenda. For FAO, he previously served as economic and food system analyst, and also as an agro-industry officer providing supervision of field projects in Latin America, Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to joining FAO, he was an associate professor at the University of Arizona, where he led the state’s postharvest and produce safety research and extension program.

This is the third year for the Global Innovation Challenge. Last year’s GIC addressed the humanitarian refugee crisis. The first event focused on creating innovative sanitation solutions for the 360 million children and adults around the world who have disabilities.

There are several registration options available for students, including one- and three-credit options for undergraduate and graduate students. UB students who register for the three-credit option will earn UB Curriculum and SUNY general education credits. There is a $100 fee for UB students who sign up for the GIC as a non-credit option; the fee is $200 for non-UB students and community members who wish to participate.

For more information, contact Jessica Scates at 829-5371 or