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Hopper-Dean family helps combat global hunger with PlantVillage matching fund

16 November 2021
PlantVillage Famers with tree seedlings. Credit David Hughes
A PlantVillage farmer receives tree seedlings that will help her farm become resilient to climate-change shocks. A recent gift that includes a matching component could provide up to $2.5 million for PlantVillage to expand its programming in climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Image courtesy of David Hughes

PlantVillage, a platform developed by Penn State researchers that is helping tens of millions of farmers across Africa cope with the immediate challenges of climate change, will be enhanced and expanded thanks to the generosity of Jeff Dean and Heidi Hopper, whose gift includes a commitment to match other donations up to a total of $2.5 million.

The Hopper-Dean family has kickstarted the campaign with $500,000 and will match other gifts 1:1 up to a total of $2 million over the next two years.

“This is an unbelievably generous commitment,” said PlantVillage founder David Hughes, Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Global Food Security at Penn State. “Hundreds of millions of farmers in Africa urgently need the knowledge and tools to cope with a rapidly changing climate.”

PlantVillage is a global platform that helps smallholder farmers cope with pests and climate change through a novel, community-based approach that integrates local youth, artificial intelligence (AI) and farming families to bring hyperlocal advice to farmers. PlantVillage reaches more than 9 million farmers per week in Kenya alone, and this gift allows for considerable scaling to reach 50 million farmers in the next three years.

Jeff Dean is one of the leading AI researchers at Google and has been a strong advocate of PlantVillage’s deployment of AI solutions in East Africa, where he lived for 18 months as a child, in both Uganda and Somalia.

“The potential of giving farmers all over Africa access to better information about local growing conditions, assessment of crop diseases and other technical tools is why we are excited about and happy to support the work that PlantVillage is doing in collaboration with local communities,” Dean said.

With this support, PlantVillage can provide not only AI-driven advice to millions but also begin new efforts in tree planting, drought-tolerant crop planting and conservation agriculture that are proven techniques to adapt to droughts.

In addition, PlantVillage is using the money to increase access to water in dry areas across East Africa through bore-hole drilling and rain harvesting at scale with local communities of farmers and pastoralists.

Although the project is focused on climate change adaptation, it also includes a significant amount of climate change mitigation. For PlantVillage, this involves the planting of border trees on farms to reduce wind-induced evaporation and the planting of cover crops and the application of biochar to keep moisture in the soil — all of which reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“Just as the release of CO2 was the side effect of the progress made by the rich, industrialized countries, then CO2 drawdown can be the side effect of AI-driven progress in Africa in the coming decade,” said Hughes, who has faculty appointments in the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Eberly College of Science.

Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, where PlantVillage began, said, “I am delighted that the Hopper-Dean family is supporting the scale-up of PlantVillage. The platform is a remarkably cost-effective way of improving food security globally, and the move to climate change mitigation will be a really exciting example of the power of AI to change the world for the better.”

PlantVillage estimates that an average-sized African farm can remove 5 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is not only good for the planet but a lucrative source of income for the farmers who could sell those credits on the fast-growing carbon market.

“We imagine a future where 200 million African farmers are getting rich pulling down a billion metric tons of CO2 a year,” Hughes said.

Individuals interested in learning more about PlantVillage should contact Hughes at Individuals interested in making a tax-deductible donation to PlantVillage via Penn State and seeing their impact doubled can visit To learn more about this matching gift campaign and opportunities to advance PlantVillage’s innovative climate adaptation work, contact Eric Reinhard, director of strategic initiatives, at

This commitment and the additional gifts to PlantVillage that it inspires will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit