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NSF Grant Trains Grad Students To Tackle Food and Poverty Problems

By Krishna Ramanujan

Although farming and food distribution have improved in Asia, Europe, and North America, 2.6 billion people still live on less than $2 a day and they suffer from chronic poverty.

Christ Barrett and family of maize farmers

Chris Barrett (right) visits the home of a family of maize farmers in the Rift Valley of Kenya.

A new CALS program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will train graduate students to use interdisciplinary approaches to tackle food systems and agricultural problems that contribute to extreme poverty.

A five-year, $3.2 million NSF grant will support 25 Ph.D. students for two years each in the Food Systems and Poverty Reduction Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, administered through the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development.

Open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the program will begin in August 2010 with participants from more than 20 graduate fields. The curriculum will include a seminar series; field research in Kenya and Ethiopia to study both highland and dryland agricultural systems; and a three-semester core course sequence that addresses such problems as water shortages, climate change and vulnerability to food systems, soil degradation, pests and diseases, and food supply chains.

"The idea behind the program is to expose students to different disciplinary approaches to the same problem," says Chris Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management and the program'00s principal investigator. "If you are tackling issues related to pests and disease, for example, a food scientist's approach will be different from [that of]. "

Students also will learn to use and link together new concepts and computer modeling techniques for more integrated and dynamic insights on these issues.

Co-principal investigators of the program include Rebecca Nelson, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics and of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology; Alice Pell, professor of animal science and vice provost for international relations; Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the H. E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition, and Public Policy; and Alison Power, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and dean of the Graduate School.