Most agricultural research in developing countries happens at local counterparts to the USDA Agricultural Research Service and other public institutions with obscure acronyms. Current engagement opportunities for the American public are extraordinarily limited in relation to the importance of the space.
International research centers
Some, and historically some of the most important, agricultural research happens at international research centers focused on specific crops, most of which are members of either CGIAR (formerly Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) or its smaller cousin AIRCA (Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture). In theory, anyone can send a gift by international wire transfer (or give to some centers in other ways), but there is essentially no retail marketing of this and such gifts are rare except from major foundations.
Many state universities in the US, such as Washington State University, have international agriculture programs. In some cases, they offer small donors an ability to earmark gifts such a program as opposed to supporting the university in general, but in keeping with academic independence only the very largest donors have significant say over programs. In addition, when it comes to research projects in developing countries American universities have overhead expenses that can far exceed the cost of undertaking the project directly with a local partner. American private colleges and universities are not involved in agricultural R&D (some small exceptions include the student farm at Hampshire College and a couple of genetics faculty at Brigham Young University).
There are a few public-facing nonprofit organizations that are at least tangentially related to international agricultural research.
- One Acre Fund is similar to a contract farming business and does some relatively informal agricultural research.
- Heifer International and many other organizations provide agricultural extension services in developing countries, often incidentally to micro-finance lending, community development, or missionary work.
- Donald Danforth Plant Science Center does both domestic and international plant science research.
- Compatible Technology International develops harvest and post-harvest tools for several developing countries.
- Rodale Institute does organic agriculture research, with a focus on US contexts.
- Borlaug Training Foundation and Asia Rice Foundation USA, both of which are very small, solicit donations in support of professional development of agricultural scientists in developing countries, as do several professional societies on a very small scale.
- The World Food Prize Foundation is primarily funded by a businessman, the State of Iowa, and agribusiness corporations, but does receive a handful of donations from the public. The prize itself is funded by a permanent endowment with the donations mainly supporting science education in Iowa.
- Experiment.com operates a crowd-funding platform for natural and social science research. As of July 13, 2016, approximately $6K had been raised over the past three years toward five projects containing the keyword “agriculture”.
- An affiliate of the Gates Foundation accepts unrestricted donations, presumably with some minority of the gift going towards agricultural research.
Volunteering, like donating, is rare in the international agricultural research space. One of the main volunteer opportunities is to assist with an annual conference in Des Moines. Volunteer opportunities that make use of professional skills are almost nonexistent except for agricultural scientists. Most of the organizations in the sector have boards of friends and family (typical for private foundations), have boards of exclusively subject matter experts and diplomats, or are a division of a much larger organization like a government or university.