MSU researchers help African farmers cope with climate change

November 14, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A team of Michigan State University researchers secured a $700,000 grant to help farmers in Zambia and Kenya overcome the challenges faced 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 Eric Crawford, MSU agricultural, food, and resource economics professor and project co-coordinator. "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, an MSU AgBioResearch scientist, coordinated the project with Jennifer Olson, MSU associate professor of telecommunications.

"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 field work 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 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," said Crawford. "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 in terms of 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.
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Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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