Berks professor to aid global research focused on uplifting smallholder farmers

Amy Duke
September 30, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A professor in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences will lend her expertise in gender studies to an interdisciplinary, multi-university team of researchers as they explore methods to advance fruit and vegetable production in Africa, South/Southeast Asia and Central America.

Janelle Larson, associate professor of agricultural economics at Penn State Berks, will serve as the gender specialist for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture at the University of California, Davis. The global research initiative recently received $15 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. UC Davis leads the consortium, which includes partners Florida A&M, Michigan State, Texas A&M and Penn State universities, the World Vegetable Center, and Making Cents International. The consortium will focus its efforts on West Africa, East Africa, South/Southeast Asia and Central America.

Janelle Larson

Janelle Larson, associate professor of agricultural economics at Penn State Berks.

IMAGE: Penn State

The lab's researchers aim to develop environmentally sustainable, market-oriented production and post-harvest handling methods to provide smallholder farmers in fruit and vegetable value chains with more income as well as to improve their access to fruits and vegetables to nourish their families and communities.

Larson's research focuses on international rural development, primarily on land markets, value chain analysis and gender in development. She seeks to identify programs, processes and practices that lead to sustainable development by empowering often-overlooked populations.

She explained that while women make up more than 40% of the global agricultural labor force, they often do not have access to land, extension education and economic resources, especially in developing countries.

“Studies show that when women have more control over their income and a voice in decision making, their families have better outcomes in terms of health, education and quality of life,” she said. “I'm excited to work with colleagues at UC Davis and partner universities to strengthen and expand gender considerations in their projects for the betterment of all.”

As an adviser to the Horticulture Innovation Lab, Larson will advise and support the team’s efforts to incorporate consideration of gender across their portfolio of projects, from research design through analysis and outreach. She also will participate in regional stakeholder meetings to help assess challenges and opportunities in horticulture, with a particular focus on gender.

She will draw on her experiences as a member of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Gender Equity through Agricultural Research and Education initiative, referred to as GEARE. These interdisciplinary scholars and researchers focus on opportunities for research, instruction and evidence-based outreach in gender and agriculture.

In partnership with GEARE, Larson’s contributions include leading the “Women in Ag Network: Honduras” project that promotes the participation of women in the horticulture value chain in western Honduras. She also conducts gender and agriculture training for Oxfam America and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

In addition, she studies women’s time poverty and its influence on their participation in the peanut value chain in Ghana as part of the USAID Peanut Innovation Lab.

“Janelle is a critical member of our GEARE team and an exemplary leader in advancing gender perspectives in our work,” said Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs in the college. “Her efforts help advance our mission of promoting food security, resilience and improved livelihoods through global gender equity in agriculture.”

Larson earned bachelor’s degrees in animal sciences and industry and in interdisciplinary social sciences from Kansas State University. She holds master’s and doctoral degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Oxford.

In addition to her international research and outreach projects, she teaches a course on agricultural and community development in Kenya and serves as the head of the Division of Engineering, Business and Computing at Penn State Berks.

Feed the Future is America’s initiative to combat global hunger and poverty. It brings partners together to help some of the world’s poorest countries harness the power of agriculture and entrepreneurship to jumpstart their economies and create new opportunities. For more information, visit

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Last Updated September 30, 2021