The Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) at NUI, Galway was allocated the funding for research on improving agricultural tools to reduce labour demands for women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The money was presented by the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), an initiative funded by the Gates foundation. The NUI Galway venture was one of 10 grants announced this week.
This is the first time any Irish institution or university has been successful in being awarded a GCE award.
While the initial grants are for $100,000, projects showing promise have the opportunity to receive additional funding of up to $1m.
This was the tenth round of GCE funding, which saw 1,300 proposals submitted worldwide.
The Galway research is a collaborative programme with Concern Worldwide. The funding will allow it to pursue research focusing on labour-saving agri-tool innovations for women smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
More than 1,000m smallholder farmers, predominantly women, are currently using labour intensive agricultural hand tools for weeding, planting, harvesting and crop/food processing.
Prof Charles Spillane, a member of the PABC team, said the challenge was to enable smallholders to generate more produce while reducing the labour burden on women.
"Smallholder agricultural systems remain largely dependent on human labour. Routes out of poverty for smallholder rural communities will require a swath of innovations that improve the labour productivity of their agricultural systems," he said.
"Smallholder farmers living on less than a dollar a day face this challenge in an era when energy demand and energy costs are increasing to their disadvantage."
Dr Una Murray of NUI, Galway, said: "Labour-saving tools for women smallholders can have major impacts, including higher yields, higher incomes, more time for other activities, and reductions in harmful child labour."