Senegal RPCV Molly Brown works at NASA monitoring farms from space to see if food crops are in trouble
Brown's maps start at NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which creates the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). That gives a green and brown picture of current vegetation conditions. She and her colleagues add rainfall measurements-- "If it rains today it will be green tomorrow" --and look at humidity and sea surface temperatures to create a vegetation forecast for the next one to four months. Based on those predictions and information about local markets across the region, Brown formulates a continuous map of market price forecasts. Their first maps, which will appear in the journal Land Economics, are of the dry central and northern regions of West Africa, where food prices are a matter of basic survival. "Because in this region, it rains only for four months or so," says Brown. "So, this humidity/rainfall information is then put together in a model and allows us to predict how green it's going to be two, three, four months into the future."
That prediction is important not just for food production, but also for food access -- whether people in the region can afford to buy food for their families. Brown combines these two factors to measure overall food security. When food security is critically low, it's time for international aid agencies to step in and help. When it's high, markets should be stable and people will have access to the food they need to survive. Brown says the Africa food price map will be available in 2008, with vegetation maps for other parts of the world in 2010. When are we going to see a map of prices at our local grocery store? Well, it's not that simple in a country as mobile as the U.S., Brown explains.
"So, in the U.S., it's completely different: we eat lettuce from California and we eat, you know, strawberries from Guatemala, and so because of the internationalization, the globalization of our market system, it's very hard to determine the impact of food production on local prices" she says. "In Africa, in these very small, informal markets, almost all of the grain that's bought and sold there is grown locally and is moved into the markets on foot." But U.S. farmers will still benefit from Brown's work. The maps that she and her colleagues plan to develop for the U.S. will predict vegetation and rainfall levels months in advance, helping farmers decide what crops to plant when. Read more.
Cameroon RPCV Carol Miles has been working with African farmers to increase seed production of red kidney beans and get them into the hands of farmers where transportation systems are poor
Washington State University researcher Carol Miles has spent many months over the past five years traveling from Vancouver to Africa, planting, harvesting and cataloging beans. Her purpose is to help American farmers earn a profit and to help African farmers feed the hungry. Quietly and steadily, the internationally known vegetable horticulturist has joined with her assistant Liz Nelson and a changing crew of graduate students to test a new exotic mix of dried beans. In Western Washington and Oregon, the new varieties of beans may produce major profits for small, specialized niche farms. But the work that had been conducted at WSU's Research and Extension Unit here has shifted to a facility in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle. The move occurred amid questions about the future of the Vancouver site.
For African farmers, Miles and her students have been working to increase seed production of red kidney beans and get them into the hands of farmers where transportation systems are poor. "In Washington, we've been using colored and patterned beans," Miles said before leaving to work in Malawi. "These are beans that are not on the shelf anywhere, beautiful old beans, heirloom, in very pretty colors and patterns, that farmers have been selling from Olympia to Western Oregon, often at several dollars a pound." They've been a success, for example, on Laura Masterson's 47th Avenue Farm in Portland as well as at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Ore. Masterson said she's been growing and selling Jacob's Cattle beans and cannellini beans that Miles developed, and has just started growing other varieties of dry beans from Miles' stock. "The beans are great. They are definitely profitable for us, a nice little niche option" said Masterson, who grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. "Carol is a tremendous resource. She saved us years of work. I can't tell you how tragic it is that she is not going to be here anymore."
Miles has developed an international reputation. She joined Washington State University in 1994 as an area extension agent specializing in vegetable production systems. She also has studied alternative high-value crops including edamame (vegetable soybeans), baby corn, pea shoots, wasabi and bamboo. Her interest in sustainable agricultural systems seems to have grown naturally out of the pattern of her life. Born in Rangoon, Burma, she attended grade school in Turkey, Nigeria and Panama. She graduated from high school in Afghanistan. She served in the Peace Corps, teaching vegetable production in Cameroon. There she also worked on a bean and cowpea project studying crop balancing and pest issues. She also worked on preventing blindness in Malawi with the Helen Keller Foundation and Save the Children. She saw a lot of subsistence agriculture in all these places and cultures, and her goal became working with farmers to create sustainable production systems that provide a source of well-being to both the family and the community. She has also worked on organic pest control, disease suppression and human pathogens. She has worked in Malawi and Tanzania on sustainable seed systems. She said she intends to carry on her work, wherever she can find space and interest. Read more.
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