DAFRE.3 green  

Advancing Economics, Transforming Lives

Summer 2012
In This Issue
From the Chairperson
Mali Coup
Disease Management
Government Efficiency
Alumni News
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Ag HallFrom the Chairperson

In the department's rich history of international development work, our long-term efforts in Mali would rank near the top in success and impact. AFRE has had a Mali program serving the food policy and capacity-building needs of West Africa since the mid-1980s. The department has an office in Bamako, Mali, headed by faculty members Nango Dembélé (a citizen of Mali) and Boubacar Diallo (a citizen of Niger). After almost 20 years of democracy, Mali experienced a coup d'état March 22. There are many underlying reasons for the coup, but a key trigger was the fall of the regime in Libya, which resulted in many well-armed mercenaries returning to northern Mali. Within a short time after the coup, a combination of separatist groups took advantage of the coup and resulting instability in Bamako to seize the northern two-thirds of the country.


In the immediate aftermath of the coup, the U.S. Peace Corps withdrew from Mali, forcing a premature end to the in-country assignments of two of our Peace Corps international master's students. Michigan State University (MSU) faculty members and students visiting Mali were also evacuated, and USAID-funded project activities suspended. One of our Malian graduate students, Jacob Coulibaly, has had to return home as a result of this suspension. Our other food security research and outreach activities that cover the entire West Africa region, funded by various foundations and implemented through our Bamako office, however, have continued.


Even before the coup, Mali and the Sahel region were facing a serious food crisis. The combination of the mediocre harvests of 2011-12, the political disruption in Bamako and the occupation of the north by separatists greatly increases the number of Malians facing food insecurity over the coming year. AFRE's in-country team has shown great courage and perseverance during a very difficult and unpredictable time. USAID has now authorized MSU to continue the humanitarian components of its work, including support to market information and early warning systems, over the next year. Though the road ahead will not be easy, AFRE remains firmly committed to bring all its expertise to bear to help the people of Mali work through the current period of political and food insecurity and lay the foundations for growth and prosperity once the political challenges are overcome.


This issue of Advancing Economics features the story of three MSU students who were among those evacuated from Mali this spring. The second feature story looks at innovative work under way in the department that is leading to new approaches to manage the spread of livestock and wildlife disease. And our third feature explores a collaborative effort between MSU and the Michigan Department of Treasury that has resulted in an online fiscal database that is improving intergovernmental cooperation and shared services in the state.


Steve Hanson

Department Chair

Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics


Ag hall . small
AFRE peace Corps masters International student James Aleen planting a tree in Mali in 2011.

Mali Coup Abruptly Ends Graduate Student Peace Corps Work


Three MSU students were among more than 150 Peace Corps volunteers evacuated from Mali to Ghana April 9 in the wake of a March 22 coup d'état.  James Allen IV, Emily Reiersgaard and Ajka Suljevic had each completed one year at MSU before going to Mali through the Peace Corps Masters International program.

The West African country had been relatively peaceful and a beacon of democracy for so long that Allen - a master's degree candidate in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) - had no reason to believe that he wouldn't complete his 27 months of study and participation without interruption.

And then came this spring's coup. On March 22, low-ranking officers and soldiers overthrew the elected government, looted the presidential palace in the capital city of Bamako and arrested ministers.  Two weeks later, a separate rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, declared the secession of a state in the northeastern two-thirds of the country.

The Peace Corps responded initially by relocating its more than 150 Mali volunteers from their villages to regional centers away from the conflict.  On Easter Sunday, the volunteers left the country.

"Very sad," Allen said, "And so incongruent with the way life had been in Mali for quite some time. It was the very last place in West Africa that anyone would have expected this to happen."

Allen was an environment volunteer who worked with villagers on improved forestry.  Emily Reiersgaard-a master's candidate in Community, Agriculture, Resource and Recreation Studies (CARRS)-was also an environment volunteer.  She taught nutrition to villagers in Kafara and to new Peace Corps volunteers in Bamako.  She and Allen co-hosted a series of radio shows about environmental issues in Mali. They both arrived in Mali in July 2010. The third student, Ajka Suljevic, arrived in November 2011.

The day the uprising began, March 21, Reiersgaard had just submitted an application to start her master's field research. She rode the collective transport back to her village after spending several days in Bamako. Later she found out that Malian soldiers at a military camp just outside of the capital city had begun a demonstration that led to the overthrow of the presidential palace and the administration of President Amadou Toumani Touré.

The next day the mutiny had been declared a coup. The Peace Corps then ordered all volunteers on "stand fast" in or near their homes with a bag packed for departure.

Suljevic, of Grand Haven, Mich., was volunteering at the time in the village of Wacaro, about two hours from Bamako.  At the time of the coup, she had just completed her training in community needs assessment.

"I've never met a more generous, hospitable group of people," Suljevic said. "Given that it's one of the poorest countries in the world, no one ever hesitated to feed me, and there was always someone there to help me if I needed it, given my limited language skills."

Two weeks later, the volunteers were notified that it was time to evacuate. On April 5, they were relocated to the Peace Corps training center in Bamako. Four days later, on Easter Sunday, they left Mali for good.  They flew to Accra, Ghana, for an evacuation conference.

Allen, Reiersgaard and Suljevic have all returned to the United States and will resume their master's studies at Michigan State University this fall.

-- Mark Meyer

Ag hall . smallHoran Addresses The Threat Of Livestock Disease


The overpopulation of deer in the northern region of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and the spread of livestock and wildlife disease have real economic consequences. But people do more than experience the consequences -- they also influence how wildlife diseases spread. Rick Horan, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, and his research team are innovating on traditional epidemiological models by incorporating how human behavior and livestock behavior interact. Their work is leading to new approaches in disease management.


Horan and his team will use recent grants from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine how markets motivate hunters and farmers.  They aim to identify public policies that could correct market failures that currently contribute to disease risks in domestic and wild animals.


For example, is there a way to better target surveillance efforts so as to predict where outbreaks of disease may occur and which states are likely to be affected?


"Right now, surveillance efforts on the state level are mostly reactive," said Horan, who noted that bioeconomics historically has focused on wildlife and fisheries management and the ways in which humans affect the ecological populations over time. "We wait until something happens and then place more stringent regulations on testing.


"What if we looked at the states with the highest trade flow that are more likely to be infected? Maybe we should test them more frequently, and then we catch the infection early. The cost savings would be very significant."

The savings would be especially significant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), whose budget for controlling outbreaks in recent years has been stretched beyond its limit. Horan explained that APHIS makes indemnity payments to farmers whose herds have become infected. The payments include compensation for culling the livestock and can run well into the millions of dollars.

Horan believes that, by combining epidemiology and trade modeling, his team can predict which area of the country would have the highest probability of a new infection and where those infections might be costliest.

"If you have two regions where you might impose surveillance, which of those regions has the highest probability of having an economically relevant outbreak?" Horan said.

Most of Horan's previous work in this area examined pockets of infection and individual risks for farmers, as well as the effects of overharvesting deer and habitat loss on biodiversity. But he believes the spread of wildlife and livestock diseases in Michigan -- for example, deer transferring bovine tuberculosis to cattle -- and other states across the country is becoming as serious as the threat of invasive species.

"Wildlife and livestock diseases are predicted to become even more important in the future," Horan said.

Current policies do not provide incentives for producers to invest in preventing the spread of wildlife disease to farm livestock. The USDA would like to encourage reporting and self-protection. It can't observe when herds become infected and how much effort the producers took to prevent it from happening.

What if the indemnity payment depended on how many precautions were in place before the outbreak? Were there signals that the producer did take action to control the spread of infection? Was the outbreak reported immediately or allowed to be transported out of state?

Ultimately, Horan and his team will consider whether incentive programs to prevent wildlife disease spread need to be modified to account for market risks for trade flows and the effect on neighboring states.

"We're trying to show what's important - the big picture - what trade-offs do people need to be considering and in what ways should we think about the problem that is economically sound?" he said.

--Mark Meyer

Financial Tool Augments Government Efficiency     


Gov. Rick Snyder's message to state lawmakers and local governments in March 2011 was straightforward and simple: The decade-long recession and sinking property values had left few economic options on the table for Michigan. The case for intergovernmental cooperation was clear; the urgency for regional solutions to regional problems was imminent.


Enter Michigan State University's Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) professor Mark Skidmore. Skidmore and MSU partners had collaborated with the Michigan Department of Treasury for four-plus years to develop an online database that would address Snyder's call for fiscal transparency and accountability.


Skidmore and Eric Scorsone, MSU Extension specialist housed in  AFRE, and Suzanne Schafer of the state Local Audit and Finance Division, developed a web-based portal through which officials can submit their fiscal information and view various types of localized reports, such as:

  • The Citizen's Guide, which provides a closer examination of a municipality's fiscal profile, must be made public by local governmentsin order to comply with the governor's Economic Vitality Incentive Program and gain access to state revenue-sharing funds;
  • TV, SEV and Population Report, which covers property tax measures of Taxable Value (TV), State Equalized Value (SEV) and local population data;
  • Comparison Report, which allows two local units (cities, counties,towns and townships) to view their information in a side-by-side format.


"The key is to use these tools of economic analysis to identify opportunities (for shared services)," Skidmore said. "Over the long run it can help inform decision making and provide a meaningful from of comparison. For example, is East Lansing doing as well as Battle Creek?"

Comparison Reports will be of immediate benefit, as Gov. Snyder reinforces the need to streamline all areas of government and for neighboring communities to share resources and reduce expenditures. An ¬example of this type of joint effort resulted when the cities of Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint developed a program to share the processing of tax returns. According to a report in the Lansing State Journal, the city of Lansing will save $25,000 by not having to hire temporary employees who normally would have processed the returns. Officials estimated the total savings among the three cities could reach as much as $2 million over the next nine years.


Beyond allowing citizens to compare their community with others or giving policy makers the information to analyze cost efficiencies, the web-based data input system has three further objectives:

  • To develop a more transparent set of tools that facilitates the democratic process;
  • To improve long-term financial management in local government; and
  • To sharpen legislative analysis and the reporting on government fiscal health.


All of which lead to leaner, more efficient financial management at a time when Michigan municipalities must capitalize on all available sources of funding, Skidmore said.


"(The web-based database) is a huge improvement for us and for local governments," Schafer said.
"The analysis and decision-making process has been helped immeasurably by these enhancements."


--Mark Meyer  


AFRE Alumni News (Spring 2012)    




Anne Weir (M.S., 2012) joined Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., on June 1, 2012, as a supply planning analyst in Johnston, Iowa.


Jennifer Meyer (M.S., 2012) joined  Angelic Organics Learning Center on June 11, 2012, as a program director in Caledonia, Ill.


Rachel Ford (M.S., 2012) was named executive director of the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council in April 2012, four months after arriving as a community outreach Intern. She is based in Skagway, Alaska.


Aleksan Shanoyan (Ph.D., 2011) joined the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics in January 2012 as an assistant professor in Manhattan, Kansas.

Ag hall . small
2012 Graduate Research Symposium award winner Hillary Sackett, flanked by faculty advisor  Scott Swinton and symposium organizers Pete Richards and Robb Shupp - Photo credit: Dale Yi.

Awards to AFRE Members (Spring 2012)        


(See more at http://www.aec.msu.edu/awards.htm)  


Awards to Undergraduate Students 


Dustin Baker and Katie Kanitz, agribusiness management majors, received MSU Board of Trustees Awards April 13, 2012. These awards are given to graduating seniors who have the highest scholastic averages. Dustin and Katie, from St. Louis and St. Johns, Mich., respectively, were among the 37 students who were recognized for achieving GPAs of 4.0. Details at: http://news.msu.edu/story/largest-group-of-4-0-students-receive-board-of-trustees-awards/ .   

Lauren Quist, agribusiness management student with a specialization in international agriculture, received the Outstanding Senior Award, presented by the Senior Class Council April 1, 2012.  She has been an active member in MSU Students Advancing International Development and studied abroad in India.

Awards to Graduate Students 


Tim Komarek was awarded a CANR Dissertation Completion Fellowship for summer 2012.


Award winners at the department's annual Graduate Research Symposium March 22-23, 2012, were Hillary Sackett for completed research, Ayala Wineman for research in progress and Leah Harris for research at the idea stage.


Benchamaphorn Sombatthira, a Ph.D. student, was selected as a FAST (Future Academic Scholars in Teaching) Fellow for 2012-13 with the MSU Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL).

Awards to Faculty Members 


Departmental faculty awards announced at the annual faculty meeting May 23, 2012, went to:


Laura Cheney, Distinguished Teaching Award for excellence in teaching Decision-making in the Agri-Food System (ABM/FIM 100) and leadership of the MSU chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA), which received the Outstanding Student Chapter of 2010 award from NAMA in April 2011.


Niama Nango Dembele, Distinguished Extension/Outreach Award for effective agricultural policy research and outreach in West Africa, which has focused on market information and food security.


Richard Horan, Distinguished Research Award for creative examination of the co-evolution of human and environmental systems applied to agricultural pollution, species conservation, management of invasive species and infectious diseases, and the possible influences of economic choices on human evolution.


Scott Loveridge, Distinguished Service Award for his coordination of the AFRE graduate program and development of an innovative program to recruit undergraduates at Michigan colleges and universities, which has led to improvements in research and graduate placements. 




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 Editor:           ANR Communications

Layout Editor:        Fran Adelaja