MSU researchers help African farmers cope with climate change

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MSU AgBioResearch, Eric CrawfordA team of Michigan State University researchers, including AgBioResearch scientist Eric Crawford, secured a $700,000 grant to help farmers in Zambia and Kenya overcome the challenges they face from changes in climate.

The project, which will link climate change to coping strategies and impacts on food production, food security and incomes for farm families in those areas, is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Food Security, Office of Agriculture, Research and Transformation.

“Agricultural growth is a key factor in economic development,” said Crawford, a professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics. “In both southern and eastern Africa, maize, or corn, is the most important crop to small farmers. We hope our research can help show how to improve production even in the face of climate change.” 

Crawford credits seed funding from MSU AgBioResearch that supported project development activities for making the new funding possible.

“This new funding is a win-win for all involved,” said Steve Pueppke, director of MSU AgBioResearch. “We provided funding to Eric Crawford and a group of researchers under the Global Food Systems initiative to promote closer links between research on food security and climate change. We are pleased that this project is moving forward with additional funding.”

Crawford is the co-principal investigator for the project along with Jennifer Olson, associate professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

“We are looking at recent trends in rising temperatures, droughts and floods, and linking these with changes in crop yields and with decisions being made by farming households,” Olson said. “This, along with fieldwork in communities, will provide new information on how climate change is affecting farming households and how they are responding.”

The information will be used to develop models that will project the impact of future climate change on crops and households and test how farming decisions can help with food security. The results will be useful to farmers as well as agricultural researchers who are developing crops and farming practices suited to the climate change. The information also will be valuable to government officials in planning for famine relief and other assistance.

“An increasingly important limiting factor for food production in Africa and Asia is climate, particularly low or erratic precipitation,” Crawford said. “Efforts to increase food production need to consider expected changes in climate. Responses to climate change have been limited by a lack of information on current and future environmental limitations and their impacts on household food security.”

Planned activities with the project, beginning in Zambia in the first year and Kenya the following year, include historical analysis of rainfall patterns, projection of future climate scenarios and construction of farm household models.

MSU has a long-standing commitment to African research and has established a network of partners and connections in Africa that will enhance the research. In addition, the new grant will link the multiple-year household survey data to MSU’s climate, crop, land-use and water-availability models. This should improve the understanding of past and future adaptation by rural households to climate change through agricultural production practices, technologies and other income-earning strategies.

Additional MSU team members are Jeff Andresen, associate professor of geography and AgBioResearch scientist; Gopalsamy Alagarswamy, visiting senior research associate at the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations; Steven Haggblade, professor of international development; and Nathan Moore, assistant professor of geography.

Photo: MSU AgBioResearch scientist, Eric Crawford

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