Category Archives: Researchers

Study: Malawi’s fertilizer subsidy not ‘miraculous’

Joe Messina

By David Poulson

When geographer Joe Messina first analyzed satellite images of Malawi farm fields, he figured he had made a mistake.

Almost everywhere he looked in the East African nation he found maize harvest declines over the previous decade.  But this was the site of the Malawi Miracle, a fertilizer subsidy program so successful that it was lauded by researchers in scientific journals and by writers in the New York Times and The Economist.

It became a model program used to justify similar enormous investments by the international community in other African nations.

“I assumed I was wrong,” said Messina, a researcher at Michigan State University’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

Continue reading Study: Malawi’s fertilizer subsidy not ‘miraculous’

Cooking, cooling and cultivating with poop

Rebecca Larson (center), with project partners near Kampala, Uganda.

Decomposing human and animal waste has the power to change lives. While it might sound – and smell – funny, the power of poop lies in biogas, a renewable energy source produced during the breakdown of waste. The process yields a gas of about 60 percent methane that can be used for cooking, refrigeration, and other basic needs. The waste itself can also be processed and applied to fields to enrich the soil and improve crop production.

Rebecca Larson. Photo by : Lizzy LaFave

That’s what waste engineer, Rebecca Larson, assistant professor professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been doing. She’s partnered with Vianney Tumwesige, CEO of Green Heat, a Ugandan energy company, teamed up on a host of projects in Kampala, Uganda that demonstrate new ways to transform waste to resource.

Listen our interview with Prof. Larson here

Making sorghum easier to digest

Nana Baah
Nana Baah

Sorghum is a cereal grain that originated in Africa where it has grown for 10,000 years.

It grows tall like corn. Bread and porridge are commonly prepared from it, so it is the main source of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for millions of people.

But its biggest advantage is that it resists heat and drought. Yet it’s not as popular as wheat or corn because its hard to digest.

That’s a hard crop to crack, right?

Well, Nana Baah Pepra-Ameyaw, a doctoral student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, is giving it a try. He spoke with Ali Hussain, a reporter for The Food Fix.

Listen to their interview.

New book examines power, concentration in the food system

phil-book-coverA few powerful actors decide what we eat and how much gets to us.

As much as 40 percent or more of the market at every key stage in the U.S. food system is controlled by four firms, according to Philip Howard, an associate professor in community sustainability at Michigan State University. Continue reading New book examines power, concentration in the food system

Researcher studies effectiveness of cocoa certification program


For some people anything is good if it’s made of chocolate. But many people don’t know how chocolate is made or where it comes from.

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans found in West Africa. As the world’s demand for chocolate rises, many cocoa farmers struggle with low yields and low incomes. More than 90 percent of cocoa farmers in Ghana, the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, live on less than a dollar a day per person.

Researchers are studying if certifying farmers as trained cocoa producers can benefit their businesses.

Ebenezer Offei Ansah, a masters student in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, interviewed cocoa farmers and producers in Ghana to find out how certification programs work. His research could identify problems in cocoa production in Ghana and  other cocoa producing countries.

Listen to the podcast here.