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.