Munro Part of NSF-Funded Team Studying Food Security in Africa
Oct. 22, 2015
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— The National Science Foundation has awarded a $480,000 grant to
a team of five researchers including Illinois Wesleyan University’s William Munro.
The research team will investigate female farmers’ participation in a well-funded
initiative to boost yields and sales in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with
part of the funding supporting the participation of undergraduate students in the
In 2014, 805 million people suffered from chronic hunger, with the highest malnutrition
rates in rural sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural
Organization’s most recent estimate. To address the issue, a multi-lateral effort
from aid agencies, philanthropic foundations including the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, and African governments have committed billions of dollars to the goal
of raising productivity among small farmers.
This multi-billion dollar strategy known as a “Green Revolution for Africa” (GR4A)
seeks to more tightly integrate small farmers into formal markets in order to improve
their access to yield-boosting inputs and to encourage the sale of crop surpluses
for cash, according to Munro, the Betty Ritchie-Birrer ’47 and Ivan Birrer, Ph.D.
Endowed Professor and a member of Illinois Wesleyan’s political science faculty.
The team of researchers includes principal investigator Rachel Schurman, University
of Minnesota; Thomas Bassett, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Heidi Gengenbach,
University of Massachusetts Boston; Bill Moseley, Macalester College, and Munro, an
expert in African politics and development theory. Munro said the powers behind GR4A
believe the solution to Africa’s hunger problem lies in unleashing women’s potential
in agriculture along with small farmer market integration.
“Essentially, we’re interested in how the theory plays out,” said Munro. “There is
an imperfect understanding of whether and how women farmers benefit from participating
in agricultural value chains, and under what circumstances women farmers’ income gains
translate into reduced household poverty and malnutrition.
“It’s paradoxical, really, that on a continent where most people live off the land,
they are still food insecure,” he added, noting that precise mechanisms to determine
success of the GR4A initiative remain ill-defined.
Through interviews and in training rural women to use food security assessment tools,
the research team seeks to demonstrate whether and how the “woman-farmer-centered”
agricultural value chain works in practice, and whether evidence supports donor enthusiasm
about predicted nutritional outcomes for farming households. Moseley will focus on
sorghum and millet markets in Mali, Bassett will look at cashew markets in Côte d’Ivoire,
and Gengenbach will study cassava markets in Mozambique. Munro’s work will include
personal interviews with policy makers in the United States and Africa, as well as
research the roles of African multilateral organizations on the ground in Mali and
Côte d’Ivoire. The grant will provide funds for an Illinois Wesleyan student to serve
as a research assistant starting in the spring semester. Funding will also support
graduate student research at Illinois, Minnesota and UMass Boston.