Born and raised in West Africa, Saweda Liverpool-Tasie is never too far from home

Born and raised in West Africa, Saweda Liverpool-Tasie is never too far from home

September 26, 2014

Though Saweda Liverpool-Tasie makes her home in East Lansing now, the AFRE assistant professor remains well connected to her homeland through her research to improve agricultural practices and the lives of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Nigeria.

“I feel like being an assistant professor here at this time, with the kinds of projects I’m involved in, is a potentially important way that I can contribute to countries like Nigeria. As an assistant professor, I have been able to engage in research on issues that are important and relevant to the development process.  Apart from good research facilities, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding faculty in a college like CANR and in a university with such a strong international focus. I really don’t know if I could do what I do if I was in Nigeria right now,” Liverpool-Tasie said.

Some of her current research projects focus on modern technologies that have the potential to improve farmer incomes and productivity. She is very interested in understanding the process of technology adoption among rural farmers, particularly those geared to promote “sustainable intensification” practices.  The targeted use of fertilizer is one example, she noted, in discussing two ongoing projects in Nigeria and Niger.

She’s also interested in how farmers in places such as Nigeria learn about new technologies.

“Extension services in developing countries are often weak,” she said, “so farmers often get information from their peers -- their neighbors and friends. Can we better understand these networks so we can leverage on their structures to disseminate information about new technologies?”

As a Norman Borlaug Fellow in 2007, Liverpool-Tasie studied the lives of farmers in Ethiopia by examining ways in which their poverty status was measured. She concluded that, in rural Ethiopia, asset-based poverty measures were a more useful way of predicting someone’s future income and economic well-being than income alone. She then used poverty classifications based on assets to test for heterogeneous social network effects on farmer adoption of new technologies. She found evidence that social learning was more evident for households not in persistent poverty, for more complex technologies and within networks based on intentional relationships rather than proximity.

Liverpool-Tasie was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in Jos, Nigeria. She graduated from the University of Jos with a degree in economics. During her last year at university, she was an intern for a Fulbright scholar from the University of Iowa who also was interested in technology and development in Africa. That led her to Iowa City, where she received two master’s degrees, one in urban and regional planning, and one in Third World development. From there she went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received a doctorate in agriculture and consumer economics.

Before coming to MSU in 2012, Liverpool-Tasie was a postdoctoral fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., posted to Abuja, Nigeria.  She finds academia interesting because it allows her both to research and to teach.

“That’s ideal,” even though it means fewer hours of sleep, she said, smiling. For the fall semester, she is teaching an undergraduate course, World Food Population and Poverty, and co-teaching a graduate-level class, Agriculture in Economic Development.

Liverpool-Tasie is involved in a new multi-country AFRE project, Guiding Investment in Sustainable Agricultural Intensification in Africa (GISAIA). She is leading a two-pronged study in Nigeria. One part looks at understanding how fertilizer use correlates with crop profitability across Nigeria’s diverse agro-ecological and market conditions. Her team also is working with the private sector on an innovative approach to improve farmer knowledge and access to new sustainable intensification practices that could increase rice productivity. Here as well, the role of social networks in this process is being explored.

“I am very happy to be here and able to do all these kinds of things,” Liverpool-Tasie said. “I am always happy to work in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.”

   -- Christine Meyer

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