African Agriculture’s Green Revolution
“Most faculty come alive when they’re talking about their research,” says Professor Rachel Schurman. “It’s something they really care deeply about and that makes it more engaging.” Schurman is no exception when discussing her research on food and agriculture in Africa. Her eyes light up as she discusses her current project examining the efforts of foreign aid donors and philanthropic organizations to spark what they dub a “green revolution” in African agriculture.
Schurman and four other researchers received a grant from the National Science Foundation to travel to three African countries to study the effort to generate an agricultural transformation in Africa. Some of the organizations that are big donors to this cause include the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the latter being involved in the green revolution since the 1940s.
“The project has many elements, one of which is looking at developing commercial markets and getting poor farmers connected to them,” says Schurman. “We’re going to investigate what impact these efforts have on integrating poor, smallholder farmers into particular agricultural value chains.”
“The claim is that modernizing African agriculture in this particular way will improve living conditions and livelihoods of very poor farmers and their households,” Schurman says. “We’re looking into whether that’s happening and how.”
Professor Schurman says that her research provides insights that makes her a better educator. “When I’m in class, I have all these examples I can draw on that are real-world things that I’m involved in,” says Schurman. “Having that experience to draw on in the classroom makes such a difference, both in terms of my ability to make the class interesting, and in terms of my understanding of what I’m talking about.” One of the classes Schurman teaches, Stuffed and Starved: The Politics of Eating, focuses on food issues, hunger, and the global agricultural system—which ties in directly with her research.
“I spend a lot of time in my classes pulling from my experiences traveling to, say, Tanzania, or to Kenya, or to Chile where I did a lot of work in the past,” says Schurman. “I also teach a class on in-depth interviewing, and I use that method in my own research, so that all gets channeled right into the classroom.”