Published: Jan. 8, 2010

MSU researchers study climate change, food production in East Africa

Contact(s): Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709, Stephanie Motschenbacher Advancement office: (517) 884-1129 cell: (517) 648-9945, Jennifer Olson College of Communication Arts and Sciences office: (517) 432-3234

EAST LANSING, Mich. — For the first time, crop breeders and agricultural specialists in East Africa will have regionally specific climate data to research and manage crops in an effort to improve food production, according to Michigan State University researchers.

Using a $430,000 Rockefeller Foundation grant, researchers will study the impact of climate change on the drought-stricken area, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, said lead researcher Jennifer Olson, associate professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

“This part of Africa is getting over the worst drought it has had in many years,” said Olson, who is working with geographers, agronomists, sociologists and climatologists at MSU and in East Africa. “Climate change is leading to warmer temperatures and heightened water stress for plants, as well as less reliable rain.”

With assistance from an MSU supercomputer and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, the research team will link a customized regional climate model with crop and water models. This will enable agriculture specialists to determine the impact of climate change on different crop varieties. As a result, they will develop crop varieties that better withstand climate change.

“The models we create can test the effectiveness of new crop varieties in responding to warmer temperatures and other climate changes,” Olson said, “and the results will speed up the agricultural research cycle.”

Communicating the findings to agricultural researchers and policymakers will require innovative approaches such as interactive visuals that illustrate model results, she added.

“Most of our research has focused on the causes and consequences of climate change,” said Nathan Moore, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and co-investigator on the project. “This grant will apply those results in a new way by asking African specialists what their information needs are, and how they want us to help.

“The project also will allow us to train African researchers how to analyze crop-climate data so they can test different possibilities themselves.”
MSU’s long-standing commitment to African research will aid the project’s success, said Jeffrey Riedinger, dean of MSU International Studies and Programs. “Throughout the past 50 years, MSU has established valuable connections in Africa, a great network of partners in the region and significant scholarship there,” he said.

The grant is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s $70 million Climate Change Resilience Initiative, which includes a commitment to ensuring that resilience strategies are a more integral part of agricultural research, development, planning and implementation in African countries to strengthen the resilience of smallholder farming.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

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