Quarterly newsletter from ACES International at the University of Illinois.
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ACES International Newsletter - October 2020

ACES International is published twice per semester. Please click on the links for more information about these news items presented by the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 


The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is actively engaged in 76 countries around the world, as evidenced in a recent faculty survey. 

The survey, administered by the Office of International Programs, was completed by 109 faculty members who provided detailed information about their current and recently completed international activities.

“The last survey of this sort was conducted 10 years ago, so it is extremely valuable to have updated data to validate ACES' continued international impacts and to be able to quickly find who is doing what, where,” says Alex Winter-Nelson, associate dean for international programs. 

Activities reported ranged from consulting and fieldwork to hosting scholars and participating in faculty exchanges. Themes reported ranged from commercial and digital agriculture to food and nutritional security, human health, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation.


The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss (ADMI) has released its annual report to spotlight its work to scale up postharvest technologies and practices with global partners. In the context of an ongoing global pandemic, reducing postharvest losses to preserve more food for consumption is more important than ever.

"The disruptions that COVID-19 brought to the world weigh on us, but they also shine a stark light on the importance of ADMI’s mission to address poverty and food insecurity through improved postharvest management," says Alex Winter-Nelson, Director of ADMI.

Some of the impacts detailed in the report include:

  • Meeting demand for online education during the pandemic
  • Integrating gender into postharvest reduction efforts in Bangladesh, Brazil, and Ghana
  • Building climate resilience among farmers in Bihar
  • Improving the nutritional quality of food consumed through low-cost testing for fortified food

The National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes announced a $20 million award to the Center for Digital Agriculture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop a new Artificial Intelligence for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management, and Sustainability (AIFARMS) institute. The White House-backed program, a joint effort between the National Science Foundation and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, supports AI research designed to impact and improve society. A multi-department and multi-institutional collaboration, AIFARMS will involve 40 researchers from Illinois.

 The multi-crop thresher, developed by SIL.

The Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at the University of Illinois has been selected by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to lead a new $1 million project — Innovation to Impact (i2i), as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. 

USAID chose SIL to lead the i2i project based on its success in scaling and commercializing development technologies, successfully bringing several innovations from ideation to impact in Sub-Saharan Africa. The i2i program will develop a toolkit to guide other Feed the Future innovation managers on a pathway toward sustained uptake, scale, and commercialization of their technologies. SIL has engaged a team of innovators from Michigan State University, University of Florida, Kansas State, and the University of Georgia to serve as co-creators of the i2i toolkit.


Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is led by the University of Illinois, is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert light energy to produce biomass and yields. In a recent study published in Food and Energy Security, scientists from RIPE aimed to understand how much variation exists within diverse cowpea lines in light absorption and carbon dioxide (CO2) assimilation throughout the canopy. This information can ultimately be used to design more efficient canopies—with greater CO2 assimilation and water-use efficiency—to increase yields.


Anneli Cers, one of five talented and motivated ACES undergraduate students who were selected as 2020 Global Food Security Scholars, shared her work related to food and nutritional security in low and middle-income countries on the Voices of ACES blog. She is a sophomore in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences working with Daniel Miller.

"When I learned about the Global Food Security Internship, I was eager to explore people’s relationships to food in a different context and location. I study Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and many of my courses highlight the current and predicted effects of climate change. Increasing temperatures and altered precipitation patterns will without a doubt exacerbate problems concerning food security. In my Global Food Security Scholar application, I proposed to study the role of women in ensuring food security in communities that depend on forests for food in India."


Ruben Chavez, one of four postharvest loss scholars sponsored by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss (ADMI), has been working with Matthew Stasiewicz to use a spectral kernel sorting system to identify maize kernels that show aflatoxin contamination. Removing contaminated kernels can reduce postharvest losses, both in terms of the numbers of kernels that are safe to consume and the nutrition content of the kernels that remain. The team will be testing the implementation of single kernel spectral sorting before, after, or in place of a cleaning system. Tests will be conducted with grain that is well dried and stored, and grain that is poorly stored.

Chavez plans to travel to Ghana later in 2020, if global conditions will accommodate travel. If not, partners within Ghana will receive training to collect the necessary data. In the meantime, the two have continued their work using grain from Texas. The project is part of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss (PHLIL) phase 2 and funded by ADMI.


John W. Santas, a former assistant dean of academic programs in the College of ACES who devoted much of his career to facilitating international opportunities and study abroad programs, passed away on July 23, 2020, at the age of 80. He was especially passionate about his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of the Human Capacity Development for the Agriculture Sector in Afghanistan project and the Afghanistan Water, Agriculture, and Technology Transfer (AWATT) consortium, which both served to improve agricultural productivity and food security in Afghanistan. John stayed involved with ACES International Programs and attended many of our seminars and events until he moved to Kalamazoo in May, and he served as a mentor and source of historical information to our office. He was always an enthusiastic reader of this newsletter and will be greatly missed. 


The Office of International Programs newsletter highlights the international activities in the College of ACES. If you have any comments, questions, or news items, please contact Leslie Sweet Myrick at lsweet@illinois.edu. Click here to: subscribe or unsubscribe from ACES international e-news.

Stay informed and involved! The Office of International Programs maintains lists of current international funding opportunities and upcoming international events.