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Year of Global Africa: Building on Partnership Legacy
Michigan Ag Connection - 03/12/2018

For more than 160 years, Michigan State University (MSU) has been dedicated to a land-grant mission that emphasizes teaching, research and outreach. John A. Hannah, the 12th president of MSU who occupied the role from 1941 to 1969, was a steadfast believer in that model.

A 1923 graduate of the university, Hannah promptly netted a position with MSU Extension as a poultry specialist after receiving his degree. He served in that job for a decade until becoming the managing director of the National Poultry Breeders and Hatchery Committee.

Although not an employee of MSU, he remained in close contact with the university. After just one year, Hannah returned to accept the post of secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, the governing body of the university at that time. He remained in the position until assuming the MSU presidency.

Hannah's tenure as president is widely recognized as a period of tremendous growth for MSU. He headed initiatives to attract more students and faculty, implement innovative curriculum changes and extend the university's global reach.

A chief accomplishment of Hannah's was driven by his desire to spread the land-grant philosophy to areas where it could be most effective. Africa was a natural destination, encouraged by Hannah's close friendship with Nnamdi Azikiwe, who would later become the first president of Nigeria.

As premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, Azikiwe steered efforts to establish a new university in the country. In 1958, with assistance from various organizations, Nigerian leaders came together with scholars from the United Kingdom and the U.S., including Hannah.

The group drafted a white paper that outlined the challenges facing Nigeria and how a land-grant university could address them. An agreement was reached to open the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1960 -- the first land-grant university in Africa and a bastion of knowledge for the region.

Since then, MSU has further formalized its relationship with countries across the African continent. Research has expanded on the ground, and students from a variety of countries are attending MSU.

In 2016, more than 330 MSU undergraduate and graduate students were from Africa, according to the MSU Office for International Students and Scholars.

Today, Hannah's legacy of cooperation with Africa carries on stronger than ever.

The founding of a new university is a colossal undertaking, and curriculum and program creation are an essential aspect of the startup process. For the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, faculty members in the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) played a pivotal part.

Among other contributions, AFRE professors Carl Eicher, Glenn Johnson, Carl Liedholm and Warren Vincent helped to establish an economic development institute at the university.

From the beginning of the MSU-Africa partnership, AFRE has led the way. Currently, AFRE continues to hold the majority of the MSU research portfolio in Africa -- and for good reason. The Center for World University Rankings named AFRE the fourth-best program in the world in 2017 for excellence in the agricultural and applied economics fields.

"Much of MSU's involvement in Africa is economic in nature, so it makes sense that AFRE is heavily featured," said Titus Awokuse, the AFRE chairperson. "The key to success in international development work is having a foundation of long-term relationships, and that's what we have in AFRE.

"At MSU, we don't just fly in and out. In addition to short-term visits by faculty and students, we also have people stationed long term in African countries who are doing research and constantly working with the people there to build local skills and capacity. People see us all the time, and that's important to establishing trust and credibility."

AFRE is awarded grants from a diverse swath of funding entities to engage with dozens of countries, but a significant number of projects funnel through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy (FSP).

The Food Security Group at MSU is an integral partner in FSP and is composed of several AFRE faculty members. FSP is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is one of 24 labs supporting the U.S. Government's Feed the Future global hunger and food security initiative.

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