MSU AgBioResearch scientists to lead new global food security effort

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Eric Crawford and Frederik Derksen are leading the Borlaug Higher Education Agricultural Research and Development Program. (view larger image)

Michigan State University (MSU) will use a $7.3 million federal grant to cultivate the next generation of agricultural scientists in Africa and Asia in hopes of improving food security and nutrition there.

The new Borlaug Higher Education Agricultural Research and Development program, named after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security. Part of Feed the Future, the government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the MSU-based program will strengthen agricultural research institutions and support long-term training of agricultural researchers at master’s and doctoral degree levels.

“MSU has 50-plus years of engagement in Africa, and we’re currently managing several master’s and doctoral training programs whose objectives and program design are similar to those of this initiative,” said Eric Crawford, MSU AgBioResearch economist. “MSU faculty members are well-versed in planning, designing and managing training and human capacity-building programs, especially in plant breeding, food science and food security—key areas of the Feed the Future initiative.”

Crawford, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics and co-director of the MSU Food Security Group, and Frederik Derksen, chairperson of the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, will lead the effort.

The program will begin in Ghana, Uganda, Mali, Mozambique and Bangladesh, with the potential to expand to other Feed the Future countries, Crawford said. The five initial countries have similar priorities: to increase agricultural productivity, reduce trade and transportation barriers, develop sound market-based principles for agriculture, accelerate rural growth and development, and improve nutrition.

The first cohort of students—30 master’s degree candidates and 10 doctoral degree candidates – will begin the program in fall 2013.

Educational institutions haven’t yet been chosen but will be those with a focus on research, education and outreach in agriculture. MSU and USAID officials will search for strong local or regional degree programs; most degrees will be awarded by U.S. universities.

Following study at the colleges and universities, many of the students will return home to conduct research and write theses. These efforts will be supported by visits from their research mentors.

“An important part of the project will be to create a network of fellows that links them across universities and disciplinary areas so that they can share experiences and develop long-term professional relationships,” Crawford said.

The program was developed by USAID, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement in Mexico.

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