DAFRE.3 green  

Advancing Economics, Transforming Lives

Winter 2012
In This Issue
From the Chairperson
African Sustainable Farming
Snapshot of Rural Zambia
Zambia Field Experience
Les Manderscheid
Alumni News
AFRE Passages
Quick Links

Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics 




Michigan State University 
Support us

  To donate, please click
Join Our Mailing List
Ag Hall From the Chairperson

Experienced and forward-looking leadership is key to any successful organization. Effective Jan. 1, Fred Poston will serve as dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, returning to the college he served as dean from 1991 to 1998. Dr. Poston has spent the past 14 years as the Michigan State University vice president for finance and operations, where he gained a broad understanding of the MSU mission. During his previous tenure as dean, Dr. Poston led  the Revitalization of Michigan Animal Agriculture project, created project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), and developed the Partnership for Ecosystem Research and Management (PERM) with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. He knows and understands MSU, the land-grant philosophy, and our agricultural and natural resources industries. Faculty members in the department and the college are energized by the leadership and vision that Dr. Poston will bring as we address the complex challenges and move to capture the unprecedented opportunities facing us today.

Sadly, we recently said good-by to Les Manderscheid, a devoted colleague and caring friend.  Les held many high-level leadership roles in the department, MSU and the profession, and touched countless students and faculty colleagues. He was chair of the department in 1988 when he took a chance on a young doctoral candidate and hired as a new assistant professor-you guessed it-me. As he did with many others, Les played a key role in mentoring me in those early years. To be honest, the mentoring never stopped as I progressed through my career, and, in his gentle way, he was still guiding me during our last phone call the week before he passed away. You can read more about the impact that Les had on so many of us in Steve Harsh's remembrance in this issue of Advancing Economics. Les and his wife, Dorothy, also generously established the Manderscheid Endowment to Support Agricultural Economics. If you are interested in supporting the endowment, please visit the giving page at http://aec.msu.edu/giving/endowed.htm.

Reducing poverty, improving nutrition and enhancing lives in poor countries around the world has long been a passion of the department's faculty. Linking that work with graduate education has been a key to how we do business. Our work over the years has expanded beyond our core theme of increasing agricultural productivity and developing value chains. But perhaps the biggest change is the way we are engaging with in-country partners in new and innovative ways to increase the impact and sustainability of our programs. Today, we work not only to generate evidence-based policy guidance for decision makers but also to build the capacity of institutes and universities where we work so that they can eventually lead and manage the needed research, education and outreach efforts in their own countries. The remaining stories in this issue of the newsletter look at two exciting efforts to increase sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa, where we have had long-standing commitments. 


Steve Hanson

Department Chair

Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics  

Ag hall . small

Intensifying Sustainable Farming in Africa with New Gates Foundation Grant


Michigan State University researchers will use a $7.8 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help eight African nations improve their sustainable farming methods.

The grant, from the Gates Foundation Global Development Program, will be used to help guide policymaking efforts to intensify farming methods that meet agricultural needs while improving environmental quality in Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Programs like this are paramount to Africa, as demonstrated by more than $2.5 billion in annual spending by African governments on agricultural intensification, said Thomas Jayne, project co-director and MSU Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) faculty member.

"All of the partners have made a long-term commitment to help this region's programs reach their full potential," he said. "MSU has longstanding expertise in this field, and our commitment to institution building was a major reason that the Gates Foundation put its trust in MSU for this grant."

During the next four years, the team will work with 10 African universities, institutes and government ministries to promote effective government strategies that help African farmers become more productive and food-secure. The team also will build the capacity of national policy institutes to guide and support their countries' agriculture ministries and eventually accept and manage international grants.

Along with the international partnerships, Jayne will collaborate with fellow AFRE researchers, including Melinda Heisey, Saweda Liverpool-Tasie, Nango Dembele, Isaac Minde, David Mather and Duncan Boughton. Together, the team will focus on three key crops - maize, sorghum and rice - and seek to improve seed development, fertilization and crop rotation to increase yields in a sustainable manner.

The grant builds on MSU's longstanding commitment to this region and stands as a tribute to the legacy of the MSU researchers who pioneered efforts such as these, Jayne added. In 2008, MSU used a $4 million Gates Foundation grant to analyze the region's agricultural marketing and trade systems to provide guidance to governments in the region on strategies to raise agricultural productivity and create more efficient, sustainable markets for small farmers.

"By guiding investments and developing policies, we're hoping to create benefits that go beyond the direct recipients," Jayne said. "The ripple effect could provide insights that feed more broadly into improving the policy processes in other countries in the region." 

--Layne Cameron, MSU Office of Communications & Brand Strategy

Ag hall . small 8,500 Interviews Take Snapshot of Rural Zambia


The sheer magnitude of the assignment was mind-boggling: interview 8,500 household heads across rural Zambia to obtain a comprehensive picture of the country's small- and medium-scale farming sector.


Such was the two-month task this summer for Dr. Nicole Mason and members of the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics as they carried out the 2012 Rural Agricultural Livelihoods Survey (RALS) jointly with the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute. From mid-May through mid-July, multiple field interview teams made up of enumerators, two supervisors and a driver moved from village to village.


"A comprehensive picture of trends in livelihoods and welfare is not achievable using existing datasets," Mason said. "Therefore, we worked with the Central Statistical Office and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to design, implement and analyze additional rural livelihood surveys in order to obtain a broader household and livelihood perspective.


"The purpose of this summer's survey is to provide policy-relevant information that is not practical to collect annually from the government agricultural surveys."

Graduate student Ayala Wineman worked in the Northwestern province during the survey, which required three weeks of training and 30 days of field work prior to launch.

"It was a long survey, to learn the ins and outs of it," said Wineman, whose previous African experience was teaching English to middle school and high school students in Ethiopia. "As a data quality controller, it was my job to verify the information from the enumerators [interviewers] and to make sure that everything added up."

The villagers' willingness to sit and answer question after question for up to an hour at a time helped compensate for the arduous travel and the need for interviewers to translate the questionnaire into Zambia's seven major local languages, which are divided into some 72 dialects.

That level of engagement caught Wineman by surprise.

"You're not likely to see that happen in our country," she said. "People just don't have the time to sit there and answer all those questions.

"But in the villages that we visited, the response rate was very high. We showed up, wanted to talk, and the people were willing to sit down with us. Their patience with the whole process was amazing."

In previous surveys-in 2001, 2004 and 2008-many of the same households were interviewed to track changes in livelihoods and well-being over time.

"It was becoming difficult for us to reconnect with many of the households that were interviewed in the previous three-wave survey, so we selected a whole new set of households to interview this time," Mason said.

"The plan is to continue to follow the RALS12 households over time. We collected GPS coordinates for all households this time, so it should be easier for us to relocate the households in a few years."


--Mark Meyer, AFRE 

Zambia Survey - Experience in the Field     


From the colder-than-expected mornings to the extended travels over African village roads loosely described as "passable," the challenges facing the Michigan State University graduate student participants in the 2012 Rural Agricultural Livelihoods Survey were sizable but not insurmountable.

Ayala Wineman, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE), used one word to sum up a common challenge throughout her two-month assignment in summer 2012 in the Northwestern Province of Zambia: "logistics."

"There were days when getting from place to place was physically difficult," Wineman said. "We'd be in remote areas without cell phone service. In the event of a question arising or a vehicle breaking down, you just had to figure it out on the spot without a backup in place."

Couple that with the challenge of accurately deciphering three languages so that the survey results would produce high quality data.

"The three languages spoken widely in Northwestern Province are Kaunde, Lunde and Luvale. Each language is spoken in a geographically distinct part of the province. So we needed to find three teams of enumerators that each spoke one of the languages, and then they went off in three different directions to conduct the survey. The survey was written in English, so it was really up to every person to translate and for us to build a common translation in the three languages so that the interviewers would essentially be asking the same questions," Wineman said.

As a native of Zambia with seven years of experience in its agricultural system, doctoral student Chewe Nkonde had surveyed farmers before.

"But compared to previous surveys, with this one I was involved from the beginning,'' Nkonde said. He helped run a three-week training course for the field interviewers that he hopes went a long way toward collecting the most accurate and consistent data possible. He also spent six weeks in the field with his data collectors, which afforded the perfect opportunity to meet farmers and discuss issues such as the impact that the new government might have on their farming practices.

Nkonde said he also realized that farmers often didn't know exactly how much land they were cultivating. By walking their property and taking precise measurements with a GPS, he discovered that many farmers actually were cultivating less land than they reported.

Jason Snyder served as a data quality controller and helped train the surveyors. He, too, was struck by the challenge of obtaining high quality data but for different reasons than those  previously mentioned by his colleagues.

"A lot depends on how questions are asked, how respondents interpret those questions and how they interpret your intentions," Snyder said. "For example, if they think you are interested in buying or taking their land, they will give you skewed answers."

Nkonde was grateful that the farmers would be willing to sit for two to three hours and answer questions about their agricultural practices.

"But what they didn't like," Nkonde said, "was never finding out the results from all the questions they've answered over the years. They would like to see something written on their level about what the academics have learned from them over the years."

--Mark Meyer, AFRE

Ag hall . small Les Manderscheid     


The Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Graduate School, Michigan State University and the profession lost a valued and dear friend and colleague Oct. 23, 2012. Lester V. Manderscheid was born on a farm near Andrew, Iowa, at the beginning of the Great Depression. His early education was in a one-room schoolhouse and a small rural high school. At age 16 he entered Iowa State University, where he received bachelor's and master's of science degrees. He completed a doctoral degree at Stanford University and became a faculty member at Michigan State University (MSU) in 1956. He was soon promoted to associate professor and then professor in 1970.


During his career at MSU, Les earned many honors and was asked to assume many leadership roles. He served the university on the University Athletic Council, the University Committee on Curriculum, the University Faculty Tenure Committee, and the University Educational Policies Committee, and served as chair of the University Steering Committee.  A member of the Academic Council, he was instrumental in revising bylaws, reducing the number of university committees, changing the idea of the different levels of participation and standardizing university committee procedures. He also served as president of the MSU chapters of Sigma Xi Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Les had a reputation for fulfilling any task that he assumed in a timely manner and with the highest quality. While involved with most of these committees and leadership roles, he also served the department, first as associate chair and director of the graduate program during 1973-87, and then as chair for the period 1987-92.


As a result of his outstanding scholarly record and his role in university governance, he was honored with the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award. His peers in the profession selected him to serve on the board of directors of the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA), and later they elected him president for 1988-89. As president, he formed the Adaptive Planning Committee, which called for redefining the association as a federation of more specialized subgroups or sections.  


The listing of the various committees, awards and honors does not capture the true impact that Les had on students, his colleagues and the profession. He had a burning passion for teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Les was known for his engaging teaching style and his ability to motivate students to master complex and challenging quantitative methods. His graduate-level econometric course was often viewed as the "gold standard" for teaching graduate courses. He stressed good empirical methods, noting, "If you do not have the theory right, and then the model right, you get nonsense back."


He mentored many students, including a future governor, lieutenant governor, three MSU trustees, and many agricultural and rural community leaders. He was the major professor for many graduate students and served on numerous graduate committees. Les was known for his unwavering desire to help students correctly interpret the results of their research models and learn from the process.  Among the graduate students he mentored were future officers and presidents of the AAEA and the International Association of Agricultural Economists.   


Les was also an educational trailblazer. After several years of declining undergraduate majors in the department, Les was a key leader in moving the department away from a traditional agricultural economic curriculum to two new curricula, Food Industry Management and Agribusiness Management. These new majors resulted in a strong and steady growth in students in the department. These restructured curricula were later adopted by several other departments in the country. Because of his leadership in redefining the department's curricula, he was consulted by the Committee for the Review of Undergraduate Education (CRUE), which repositioned and revitalized undergraduate education, redefining the role of the core course and promoting the education of the whole student. Because of Professor Manderscheid's exceptional scholarly teaching record, the AAEA awarded him the Distinguished Teacher Award.

Les Manderscheid was involved in international projects in Africa, Asia, and South America. He was Chief of Party of the delegation of MSU faculty members invited to lecture in northeastern China in 1982, shortly after the reopening of international relations between the two countries. As a fellow member of the delegation, I grew familiar with Les' non-academic side. For the month of our stay, our evenings were generally free. The weather was cold, but the hotel heating did not function initially. Les, Glenn Johnson and I kept warm by sipping warm and potent beverages while sharing our interests, experiences and many humorous moments. It was a memory that I will long cherish. That trip also highlighted for me Les's loyalty as a Spartan. In an age before Internet and with limited communication facilities, Les was able to obtain all the key scores for the Spartan teams while in China.

Les viewed retirement as an opportunity to engage in new adventures and challenges. The day following his retirement in 1992, he returned to part-time work in the Department of Agricultural Economics and in the Graduate School. At the Graduate School he developed and implemented the Distinguished Fellowship Program. In recognition of his active involvement in retirement he was selected by the MSU Faculty Emeriti Association to receive their Individual Superior Service Award in 2008.

Les will be remembered as a valued colleague. He was often sought by his peers to collaborate on research projects. He served as a mentor to several young faculty members and had a way of identifying their strengths and encouraging them to utilize those strengths as they advanced in their careers. He looked forward to the morning coffee room discussions with his peers. His insights with respect to campus politics were appreciated by everyone. If you had a question regarding the history or background on some campus activity or event, Les had an answer. Even in retirement he continued to be a frequent visitor to the coffee room. He will also be remembered as one who interacted widely with those outside his department. His leadership skills were also made available to the broader community, particularly his church. Les and Dorothy often played in a Friday night bridge group with other faculty members and their spouses, another fond memory among so many.

--Steve Harsh, Professor Emeritus, AFRE  

AFRE Alumni News (Fall 2012)    



Augustin Arcenas (Ph.D., 2002) received tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2012 at the  School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, Diliman in Quezon City.

Honglin Wang (Ph.D., 2008) is an economist at the Hong Kong Institute for Monetary Research, where he conducts research about the China and Hong Kong economy, such as monetary policy and property market.

David Yanggen (Ph.D., 2000) became deputy director of the Office of Economic Growth at the mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in mid-2011.


William Burke (Ph.D., 2012) took a position in September 2012 as research scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Ricardo Hernandez-Barco (Ph.D., 2012) in October 2012 became a postdoctoral fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Timothy Komarek (Ph.D., 2012) in September 2012 became assistant professor of economics (tenure system) at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga.

Brenda Lazarus (M.S., 2012) began work in August 2012 as a food security analyst with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) project at Chemonics International in Washington, D.C.

Jacob McManus (M.S., 2012) was named an associate business consultant with Lookout Ridge Consulting in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Richard (Max) Melstrom (Ph.D., 2012) took a position in September 2012 as assistant professor (tenure system) in the Department of Economics and Finance at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md.

Jenny Meyer (M.S., 2012) in May 2012 joined Angelic Organics Learning Center as program director, Farming Training Initiative, in Caledonia, Ill.

Peter D. Richards (M.S., AFRE, 2012; Ph.D., geography, 2012) took a position in September 2012 as a postdoctoral research associate with the Environmental Change Initiative at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Hillary Sackett (Ph.D., 2012) in September 2012 became assistant professor (tenure system) in the Department of Economics and Business Management at Westfield State University in Westfield, Mass.

Nathaniel Victor (M.S., 2012) joined General Motors as a junior economist in Detroit.

Feng Wu (Ph.D., 2012) took a position as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Florida Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wiwauma, Fla.

AFRE Passages (Fall 2012)    


Alvin Edward House, MSU professor of public affairs management, passed away Oct. 3, 2012, at age 86. Born Jan. 11, 1926, and raised on a cattle and horse farm near Cedar Vale, Kansas, Al received a master's degree in agricultural economics from Kansas State University and his doctoral degree in economics and law from Iowa State University and State University of Iowa Law School. He was a professor of public affairs management in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University and a Cooperative Extension specialist in local government (1963-89). Al was involved in Extension education, technical service and research in state and local government services.  During 1992-96, he served as Meridian Township supervisor. 

Lester V. Manderscheid, professor and chair of the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics, passed away on Oct. 23, 2012. An appreciation of his life by Dr. Steve Harsh appears in this newsletter. His obituary as past president of the American Agricultural Economics Association appears at: http://www.aaea.org/publications/the-exchange/newsletter-archives/novemberdecember-2012/people-section#obit .  



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/).

Scott M. Swinton

Writer:                                         Mark J. Meyer

Assistant Editor:                          Debbie Conway

Editing & Layout Assistance:     ANR Communications