For some people anything is good if it's made of chocolate. But many people don’t know how chocolate is made or where it comes from.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans found in West Africa. As the world’s demand for chocolate rises, many cocoa farmers struggle with low yields and low incomes. More than 90 percent of cocoa farmers in Ghana, the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, live on less than a dollar a day per person.
Researchers are studying if certifying farmers as trained cocoa producers can benefit their businesses.
Ebenezer Offei Ansah, a masters student in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, interviewed cocoa farmers and producers in Ghana to find out how certification programs work. His research could identify problems in cocoa production in Ghana and other cocoa producing countries.
Photo: Ebenezer Offei Ansah
Plastic is used for food packaging because it is widely available and cheap. However some plastics are not recyclable and those plastics contaminate the environment.
This has led to a push for the creation of food packaging that can break down safely and naturally. These packages keep food fresh, protect the environment, and can be used as fertilizer.
Chris Wilson, a masters student in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University, studies how to make food packaging safe and more environmentally friendly. His research could impact food security around the globe.
Typically, air conditioners are not seen as a way to keep food cold enough to safely eat. But a new technology lets air conditioners provide safe and inexpensive cold food storage.
Ron Khosla, a small farmer in upstate New York, created a technology called CoolBot that turns almost any window air conditioner into a food storage machine for about an eighth of the cost of a walk-in refrigeration unit.
His innovation could help reduce food waste and post harvest losses.
Photo: Ron Khosla
In some urban areas of Malawi, 42 percent of households spend at least 30 minutes a day collecting drinking water. Almost all of the people collecting this water are women and children.
But this water may not always be safe to drink. Many people suffer from waterborne diseases caused by drinking contaminated water.
Ellis Adams, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at Michigan State University, examined how people get their water in poorer places in Malawi. He looked at water safety issues in urban and semi-urban areas of Blantyre and Lilongwe. His research could help identify gender dynamics and power structures around water supplies in Malawi.
Photo: Ellis Adams
In the African country of Malawi there is not a lot of vegetation, and organic matter in the soil is quickly broken down.
The poor soil means many farmers in Malawi have to adopt innovative methods to increase production on their small farms.
Chiwimbo Gwenambira, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University, studies how to grow pigeon pea at the same time and place as ground nuts, soybean and maize. She is working with farmers in projects called mother and baby trials, where multiple farmers observe an original test field, and then adopt the practices they think could work well for them.
Her research could improve food production, especially for small farmers in developing countries.
Photo: Chiwimbo Gwenambira
Think of a kitchen sink, with taps that supply water and drains that remove it. What happens when the drain stops working? The sink gets clogged.
The same happens with the earth. The world’s population is expected to touch 8.5 billion in the next 15 years. Reduced rainfall and overuse of natural resources are hindering the planet’s ability to meet food demands.
Princess Adeji, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University, studies how to grow multiple crops on the same land. Her research could increase crop production, especially for small farmers in developing countries.
Photo: Princess Adeji
Farmers use insecticides to keep insects away from their crops. But insecticides can be expensive and toxic, posing a risk to the environment and human health.
An alternative is to use natural repellents made from plants. These repellents have a smell that insects don’t like, so the insects stay away from things with that smell.
Elizabeth Bandason, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University, is interested in figuring out what’s going on in the brains and nervous systems of insects when they smell a repellent. Her research has the potential to provide a safe and affordable way to protect plants while keeping the environment safe from toxic insecticides.
Photo: Elizabeth Bandason
A tiny piece of technology may be a simple way to reduce food waste.
Radio-Frequency-Identification tags are as small as a grain of rice, and are used to identify objects as they come closer to a radio frequency scanner. These tags are used to get into some buildings, to rent DVDs, and tracking food from where it is produced, to where it is stored, and finally to where it is sold. These tags can also keep track of temperature and humidity.
Keith Vorst, an associate professor in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State University, studies how these tags can track food during transportation and distribution. He follows food from the field to the retailer and monitors the food’s safe temperature range. His research may help make food delivery safer and healthier, with minimal food loss.
In developing countries, more than 40 percent of food is lost between harvest and the market. This is a particular problem in countries with high heat and humidity where microbes thrive.
Argus Neto, a doctoral student from Brazil, is a visiting researcher in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University.
Neto is trying to use the gases that plants make to fight microbes that make food spoil.
Wheat is the second most widely grown cereal grain in the world. Wheat Farmers could be more productive if new varieties of wheat withstand more stressors, like pests, disease, heat and drought. But these breeds still need to taste good, and work well for cooking and baking.
Sarah Battenfield is a post-doctoral researcher at Kansas State University. She works on breeding high-quality wheat using a process called "genomic selection," which could help speed up the breeding process.
Photo: Sarah Battenfield