Spartans Feed the World

By 2050, the world's population is expected to reach nine billion. To feed a population that size, food production will need to increase by 70 percent to 100 percent, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nine billion. To feed a population that size, food production will need to increase by 70 percent to 100 percent, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

To meet this most basic of needs on a massive scale, Michigan State University researchers are increasing their presence throughout Africa, Asia, and Central America—key food-producing regions—and are working directly with farmers, policy makers, and government entities to increase agricultural productivity, improve diets, and build greater resilience to challenges like climate change.

Backed by more than a quarter-billion dollars in international funding over the past decade, Spartan researchers are working with key stakeholders around the globe to improve livelihoods through innovative research and sustainable solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.


As part of Feed the Future, the federal government’s global hunger and food security initiative, MSU is using a $10 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen developing countries’ abilities to fight hunger through improved food policy.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy is led by MSU’s Food Security Group, partnering with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., and South Africa’s University of Pretoria.

MSU also leads the USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Grain Legumes—a mouthful of a name for a lab with a simple goal: help developing nations find sustainable and secure food sources.

The lab seeks to increase the productivity of beans and other grain legumes—like cowpeas and chickpeas—by small-farm owners and to enhance the nutritional quality of diets of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and the United States.

“The lab continues the incredible legacy of MSU’s commitment and scientific leadership,” says Irvin Widders, horticulture professor and director of the lab, formerly known as the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program. “We are tackling new changes resulting from population growth, climate change, and persistent malnutrition, especially among young children and women around the world.”


Sustaining the momentum Africa and Asia are making in improving food security and nutrition will require a new generation of trained agricultural scientists. MSU is expanding its role in training members of this future cohort with a $16.3 million federal grant from the Borlaug Higher Education Agricultural Research and Development program.

Funded by the USAID Bureau for Food Security, the program is part of Feed the Future and aims to strengthen agricultural research institutions and support long-term training of agricultural researchers at the master’s and doctoral levels. The program got its start in Ghana, Uganda, Mali, Mozambique, and Bangladesh, and has since expanded into Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, and Rwanda.

“MSU faculty is well versed in planning, designing, and managing training and human capacity-building programs, especially in plant breeding, food science, and food security, which are key areas of Feed the Future,” says Eric Crawford, codirector of MSU’s Food Security Group and professor of agricultural, food, and resource economics.

A new gender-inclusive Master of Science program recently launched by MSU and the University of Rwanda with funding from USAID aims to prepare women for the country’s growing agribusiness opportunities. A team from MSU trained the faculty and developed the curriculum for the Women’s Leadership Program, which began classes in February 2015.


Improving agricultural production and reducing poverty in places like East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America is the focus—and formidable challenge—of MSU’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

The center is part of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network. This partnership involving seven American and foreign universities is designed to develop solutions to global development challenges.

Experts from across MSU address critical challenges that affect global food systems, including population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change, pressures on land, and skills gaps in the work force.

With women representing 43 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide, the Global Center for Food System Innovation includes gender equity and women’s empowerment as a crosscutting theme in its work.

In addition to federal grants, MSU’s efforts to feed the world have been significantly furthered through partnership with and philanthropic support from the Gates Foundation through its Agricultural Development initiative. This program works with a wide range of partners to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families.

To date the foundation has provided more than $47 million in total support for MSU projects, including three current projects in Africa targeted toward improving sustainable farming, creating a biosafety network, and determining the risks and benefits of introducing perennial grains to regions in greatest need of the food source.


MSU experts are poised to help guide policy-making efforts to ramp up farming methods that meet agricultural needs while improving environmental quality in eight African countries.

Using a $7.8 million Gates Foundation grant, MSU is working with African universities, institutes, and government ministries to promote effective government strategies that help African farmers become more productive and food secure. Members of the team also are working to build the capacity of national policy institutes to guide and support their own countries’ agriculture ministries.

“MSU has longstanding expertise in this field, and our commitment to institution building was a major reason as to why the Gates Foundation put its trust in MSU for this grant,” says Thomas Jayne, project codirector, MSU Foundation Professor in agricultural, food, and resource economics, and distinguished fellow of the African Association of Agricultural Economists.

In another multi-country effort, MSU AgBioResearch agronomist and associate director of the Center for Global Change Sieg Snapp recently wrapped a research project that studies the potential benefits of introducing perennial grains to African farms funded by a $1.49 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Snapp’s work spanned five African nations—Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, and Ethiopia—to test the viability of perennial grain growth across varied African ecosystems and examine their ability to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and increase the storage of organic matter in soil.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do all my life, to bring new options to farmers in Africa,” Snapp says. “Bringing this team together to test this concept, it’s what agronomy should be about—testing new options for agriculture.”

See more at:

Did you find this article useful?