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|From the Chairperson|
Six years ago, after an intensive planning process, our faculty agreed that our goal is to be recognized as one of the top-ranked applied/agricultural economics departments in the world. To accomplish that goal, we recognized that we must have students at all levels, who are highly valued, sought after and career ready. Since then, we've worked to increase the quality and the size of our graduate program. Today, our graduate student enrollment has increased 30 percent to 95 students and the entrance exam scores of our incoming students have increased. Alongside these gains, our faculty members have worked hard to improve the curriculum and enhance our students' research, grant writing and communication skills.
All this has resulted in our graduate students becoming more competitive in the job market and our program becoming more attractive to incoming students. Over the past four years, we have averaged one Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) outstanding thesis award per year. Perhaps the best testimony to our progress came during a visit I made last week to one of our sister departments at another Big Ten University where we have recently placed three former students into tenure-system faculty positions. During that visit, I was asked what we are doing in our graduate program because we seem to be producing so many outstanding students. This issue of Advancing Economics features the story of one of our recent students whose work at MSU has prepared her to move on to exciting career opportunities.
Teamwork, collaboration and innovation are increasingly keys to success in addressing the complex problems facing society today and in competing for funding to support our work on those problems. The department has a long history of working across boundaries and building strong, long-lasting partnerships. This issue's second feature looks at a unique partnership where several of our faculty members helped create a trilateral cooperative agreement where the best expertise in U.S. and Brazil is combining to help address issues in a developing country, Mozambique.
In the future, we expect to see many more new and innovative partnerships created to help address current and emerging issues in Michigan and around the world.
Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics
From MSU to nation's capital to Natural Capital: An environmental economics journey
It's a journey she might not have expected when she left her native China for the United States but for Shan Ma, her research into the value of ecosystem services from agriculture has taken her across the country.
Ma, whose work led first to a fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences and then to a postdoctoral research fellowship at Stanford University, completed her Ph.D. in agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University (MSU) in December 2011.
Ma, 26, began work in December with the Natural Capital (NatCap) Project, a joint venture led by Stanford in partnership with the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. The program's mission - according to a recent New York Times article - is to transform traditional conservation methods by including the value of "ecosystem services" in business, community and government decisions.
"There is no price for most of the ecosystem services we care about, like clean air and clean water," University of Minnesota professor Stephen Polasky told the Times.
Polasky said that because economic calculations often ignore nature, the results can lead to the destruction of the very ecosystems upon which the economy is based.
Ma's MSU research measured the value of ecosystem services in field crop systems, providing an ideal background for her Stanford assignment. Her postdoctoral work there will apply the NatCap's innovative software program called InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Trade-offs) at three Department of Defense sites across the country. Ma will work alongside a multidisciplinary team, which includes Polasky and NatCap co-founders Gretchen Daily of Stanford, Peter Kareiva of the Nature Conservancy and Taylor Ricketts of the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Vermont. The NatCap project aims to make inroads in business, community and government decision making by developing practical tools and demonstrating the tools in important, contrasting sites worldwide to engage leaders in key institutions.
This year was a busy one for Ma. She recently completed the 12-week Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship in Washington, D.C., at the National Academy of Sciences, where she participated in organizational and research activities in three National Research Council (NRC) projects related to the management of herbicide-resistant weeds, the true cost of food and the comparison of animal production systems.
The opportunity to observe NRC committee meetings and internal/public science policy briefings proved to be most beneficial.
"The exposure to policy work was very important," Ma said. "Being able to attend several congressional briefings and hearings gave me the chance to see the policy-making process in real time, and to better understand the flow of information to Congress and the media.
"I met top scientists and professionals in the field of agriculture and natural resources, and was able to learn about some of the leading organizations throughout the world ... such as the USDA, EPA and World Bank. More specifically, I was able to learn about what areas they were working on, how policy-oriented research is carried out, what methods are being used and what the impact means for policy-makers and the public."
Ma, who earned her undergraduate degree in environmental economics and management from Renmin University of China in Beijing, in 2007, centered her master's thesis on measuring the value of ecosystem services as revealed through land prices. The thesis, on "Hedonic Valuation of Ecosystem Services from Agricultural Lands," resulted in journal articles in both Land Economics and Ecological Economics.
Ma's dissertation makes an innovative attempt to measure the value to society of reducing climate change and lake eutrophication. She combined data from surveys on both the demand and supply of these environmental benefits to show that Michigan residents are willing to compensate farmers for providing these benefits. The findings from her thesis could influence future farm bills in Congress, according to Scott Swinton, Ma's advisor and associate chairperson of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics. In January 2012, the department selected Ma's work as its Best Ph.D. Dissertation of 2011.
While working toward her degrees at MSU, Ma served for two years as campus co-leader of the graduate students involved with the Long-term Ecological Research project in agro-ecology at the Kellogg Biological Station.
Ma eventually would like to return to China with a base of knowledge and experience to improve international collaboration between her homeland and the United States.
"I have studied and learned from many different sources in my time at Michigan State," Shan said. "The diversity here has been wonderful. One day I hope to be able to improve the decision making as it applies to the environment and natural resources in China."
Trilateral partnership puts MSU at forefront of agricultural advancement
At slightly less than twice the size of California and with an estimated population of 28 million people, the sub-Saharan African country of Mozambique ranks among the poorest and least developed nations in the world. Although Mozambique's small-scale agriculture sector engages more than 80 percent of the population, agricultural production is of particular concern for the government because it suffers from inadequate infrastructure, commercial networks and investment, making malnutrition a widespread problem.
However, the opportunity for considerable growth exists. Because the use of modern farming techniques is extremely low, any improvement in this area can have significant effects on production, farmer income and the availability of healthy food for consumers.
A recently formed three-way partnership combines the expertise of economists and crop scientists from the U.S., Brazil and Mozambique. Funded by a $7.9 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the trilateral project aims to reduce hunger and poverty in the African nation by increasing agricultural productivity, creating economic opportunity and enhancing human nutrition.
Brazil has a robust agricultural economy with climate and soil conditions similar to those in Mozambique. Combining the innovations of Embrapa, its agricultural research agency, with expertise from Michigan State University (MSU) and University of Florida faculty will bring a wealth of complementary strengths the Mozambicans can tap into as they lay the groundwork for future prosperity.
David Tschirley, professor of international development in MSU's Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, is working with project leaders to improve the production, processing and marketing of fresh fruits and vegetables near areas of major urban population. Tschirley, a member of the department's Food Security Group as well as MSU's African Studies Center core faculty, is co-principal investigator on a number of the department's research and training projects in Africa. He travels to the continent about five times a year and went there again in December to begin planning horticultural work under the trilateral initiative.
"We're looking at the horticultural production and marketing systems that feed the large and rapidly growing urban centers in eastern and southern Africa, including Mozambique," Tschirley said. "The amount of food product that needs to be marketed (in Mozambique) is going up very fast and the types of products that are being marketed is changing very quickly. Fresh produce - fruits and vegetables - is a big part of that.
"Involving the Brazilians can help address this challenge because they have crop varieties that may be more pest resistant and produce much higher yields than the varieties currently used in Mozambique. We'll be testing those varieties in this project. At the same time, MSU's ability to take a developmental approach to the work will get the most out of what the Brazilians bring to the table."
Mozambique has experienced an impressive economic recovery over the past decade and is now one of the 10 fastest growing economies, in relation to percentage, in the world. Per capita gross domestic product in 2010 was estimated at $414, a sizable increase from the mid-1980s level of $120. Continued strong expansion will require a commitment to economic openness, major foreign investment and the resurrection of the agriculture, transportation and tourism sectors.
Improving student nutrition is one area where better fruit and vegetable production can make a difference. Tschirley will help launch a pilot school-feeding program in which local farmers will supply much of the food. MSU assistant professors Mywish Maredia and Songqing Jin are working with Tschirley, University of Florida staff members, Brazil's National Fund for Educational Development and the Ministry of Education in Mozambique. Their mission is to provide guidance on the design of a national school-feeding program that improves the health of children and lays the groundwork for productive adult lives.
According to Tschirley, World Food Programme, the food aid agency of the United Nations, runs most of Mozambique's school feeding, which supplies the children with mostly imported foods.
"There's enough productive potential, if properly designed, to get 30 to 40 percent of the food they need locally," Tschirley said. "Chronic undernutrition is a problem for a lot of schoolchildren in Mozambique. Many of them are badly nourished.
"A healthy lunch every day would help their attention spans and help them learn better, with really important long-term payoffs for them and for the country."
Kamal Ahmed el-Ganzouri (Ph.D., 1967) formed a coalition government as prime minister of Egypt on Dec. 7, 2011. He previously served as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak from 1996 to 1999. Read the BBC details at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15883031.
Joseph Bigelman's (B.S., 2002) successful career trajectory as a mortgage broker with the John Adams Mortgage Company was profiled in Broker Banker magazine in November 2011 at http://brokerbanker.com/joseph-bigelman-matures.
Sathya Gopalakrishnan (M.S., 2005) completed her doctoral degree in environmental economics and policy at Duke University in 2010. Her dissertation on "Shifting Shorelines: Combining Economics and Geomorphology in Beach Management" won the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, Honorable Mention for 2011. In September 2011, she began as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at the Ohio State University.
Gregg Hadley (M.S., 2001; Ph.D., 2003) left his position as associate professor and extension farm management specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to move to Kansas State University as its new assistant director of extension agriculture, natural resources, and community development for K-State Research and Extension. Read more at http://www.gardneredge.com/news/2011/08/12/4586-gregg-hadley-named-k-state-assistant-director-of-extension-agriculture-natural-resources-and-community-development.
Shan Ma (Ph.D., 2011) spent her last semester at MSU as a graduate doctoral fellow with the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program of the National Academies in Washington, D.C. In December, she began work as a postdoctoral scholar with the Natural Capital Project at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
Lorie Srivastava (Ph.D., 2001) and husband James McQueen moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, after a stint at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. They have a daughter. Lorie is applying her economics skills as manager of forecasting and monitoring at TransLink, theSouth Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, where she supervises a staff of analysts.
Sylvan H. Wittwer passed away on Jan. 20, 2012. Wittwer served as director of the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station from 1964 to 1983. From 1973 to 1978, he chaired the National Research Council's Board on Agriculture. He served as associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A professor in the Department of Horticulture, Wittwer was known professionally for his work on the role of carbon dioxide to enhance crop productivity. Later in his career, he was an outspoken advocate of the potential of science to contribute to food security in developing countries. His obituary appeared in the Lansing State Journal at http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/lsj/obituary.aspx?n=sylvan-harold-wittwer&pid=155632872.
Advancing Economics, Transforming Lives is the quarterly newsletter of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University (http://www.aec.msu.edu/).
Editor: Scott M. Swinton
Writer: Mark J. Meyer
Assistant Editor: Debbie Conway
Copy & Layout Services provided by ANR Communications