04/23/2013 05:20 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Why Canada Is the R&D World Leader

The steady drip of water is a powerful force in Canada's efforts to feed the world's hungry. Dr. Daniel Hillel is the 2012 World Food Prize Laureate for his work on drip irrigation, a breakthrough innovation which enables food production in the world's driest climates. The Israeli scientist will be in Ottawa on April 17 to speak at a public forum about his micro-irrigation technique. He will also be thanking Canada for its decades of support as he developed his life-saving discovery.

Canada is a world leader in research for international development, foreign aid that invests in scientific innovation to find solutions to hunger, to address climate change, to augment the food supply, to alleviate poverty and increase health and well-being in developing countries. Many organizations contribute to Canada's overall development strategy. With the goal of achieving foreign policy objectives, the International Development Research Centre is the leader in partnering for research and an integral part of that effort with organizations such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) and the Canadian research granting councils, to address global issues and change lives, for the better. For greater impact, Canada also collaborates with other governments and aid groups, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to amplify funding to key development priorities. In the last year alone over 100 million additional research dollars from partner organizations were leveraged for life-saving projects.

And we are getting results.

In women's and children's health, there has been dramatic change in the survival rate of moms over the last decade. For example, in 2010, close to 40,000 Nigerian women tragically died in childbirth, leaving families and communities devastated. A recent program in two Nigerian states funded by CIDA the Government of Nigeria and IDRC has already shown positive results by dramatically decreasing maternal mortality; thereby, paving the way for improvements across that country and elsewhere. Furthermore, Grand Challenges Canada is supporting innovations to save lives at birth. These are early days, but the GCC projects hold great promise.

There is no doubt foreign aid is changing. Gone are the days of aid projects, which increase dependency, but do not build self-reliance. Now the focus is on programs like the African Institutes for Mathematical Sciences Next Einstein Initiative, a clever out-of-the box program that trains young bright African graduates to use mathematical thinking to address complex challenges. Canada is a major donor. In 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed $20 million to help expand the program across the continent.

A powerful Canadian focus is food security. What could be more basic, more important than making sure land is arable, people have food to eat and farmers are able to make a living. It's an urgent priority. By 2030, it is projected the current food supply must double in order to meet demand. CIDA has taken a leading role (with IDRC as a partner and drawing on the private sector) to create the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), a $124 million Canadian commitment. One project in Southern Ethiopia is helping farmers improve the yield of crops like cassava by introducing seeds which also nourish the soil with nutrients. At the same time, farmers are being encouraged to rotate crops by planting chick peas and lentils (a group of crops called Pulses), which has a double benefit of giving the soil time to regenerate and introducing more protein into the local diet. Canada is a global leader in this area and our research results are being exported to countries around the world.

A creative project in the Middle East uses grey water (the water from household sinks and baths) to safely drip irrigate crops in dry lands and improve crop production. Which brings us back to Dr. Hillel and his discovery; micro-irrigation is now being used around the globe to improve food security.

IDRC is proud of the company we keep, our partners, the scientists and their programs, which have lasting impact. We are proud of the strong role Canada plays and the partnerships we create which leverage taxpayers' contribution to bring self-sufficiency to our foreign aid results. And it is our hope Canadians share in that pride.

Jean Lebel is Acting President of the Ottawa-based International Development Research Centre. To hear Dr. Hillel's lecture join the webcast at 10 am. April 17,