KBS LTER and Malawi partnership addresses food security

Placid Mpeketula in a mixed cropping field of corn and beans in Malawi.

Placid Mpeketula in a mixed cropping field of corn and beans in Malawi. Photo credit: C. Mpeketula

The W.K Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research (KBS LTER) program of Michigan State University (MSU) is partnering with the University of Malawi (UNIMA) in southeast Africa on a new project. The goal is to address

Malawi’s agricultural development and food security, two pressing domestic policy issues in a country relying heavily on agriculture.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) cooperated to launch a new funding program; Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER). As a competitive grant program, PEER provides scientists in developing countries a chance to apply for funds to support research and capacity-building activities. In its highly competitive first round, PEER received nearly 500 applications. Among the 41 selected for funding was the KBS LTER-Malawi project, Soil carbon distribution and dynamics in Malawi: A unique opportunity to optimize sustainable land use and enhance food security.

The principal investigator is Dr. Jimmy Namangale, associate professor in statistics in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in Chancellor College of UNIMA, where the project is underway for the next three years. Collaborating with Dr. Namangale is Dr. Sieglinde Snapp, an MSU professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and an LTER co-principal investigator. Dr. Snapp has been collaborating with farmers and researchers in Malawi for a number of years.

“Soil carbon is important in agriculture because it is central to soil fertility and, therefore, plant growth,” explains Dr. Snapp. “As a part of this project, we will investigate soil carbon distribution and its dynamics on limited-resource farms across Malawi.”

In addition, the research team will explore the impact of agricultural land management and its relation to food productivity in Malawi.

“The economy of Malawi hinges on agriculture which makes the question of land productivity a crucial one,” explains Placid Mike Mpeketula, a PhD student in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences working with Dr. Snapp on this project. Native to Malawi, Mpeketula is also a lecturer in the Department of Biology at Chancellor College.

Results will help resource-limited farmers, land use planners and policymakers who depend on land use strategy options that can enhance soil quality and agricultural production. This project not only benefits the population of Malawi, but potentially other developing countries.

“Such research efforts are required in the face of the world burgeoning population growth and increased demand for food,” said Mpeketula.

The PEER project is sure to expand an already strong partnership between MSU and UNIMA. With opportunities for cross-site learning in both America and Africa, this partnership is essential in unraveling new research insights and in gaining a better understanding in long-term processes influencing agricultural productivity.