In 2020, under the guidance of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy, Research, Capacity, and Influence (PRCI) the Structural Transformation of African and Asian Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAAARS+) Fellows program selected 10 early career researchers in Africa to participate in an 18-month training and mentorship program. The STAAARS+ program is built on the model of Cornell University’s STAARS fellowship program but, in keeping with PRCI’s focus, requires that fellows have a solid institutional affiliation and the support of their institutional leadership in doing the work of the fellowship.
STAAARS+ fellows were competitively selected as teams of 2-3 researchers from four African policy research centers: Bureau d’analyses macro-économiques (Senegal), Economic Policy Research Center (Uganda), Institute of Disaster Risk Management & Food Security Studies at Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia), and African School of Economics (Benin). During the training program each team received research training and mentorship by researchers from Cornell University, Michigan State University (MSU), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). As part of the fellowship program each team developed and conducted a research project related to the themes of PRCI, which include inclusive agriculture and rural transformation, development of healthy food systems, and resilience.
Reflecting on the success of the first round of STAAARS+ teams, Chris Barrett, the PRCI STAAARS+ Lead and Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University says, “The STAAARS+ teams brought great ideas and work ethic, which when combined with the skill and dedication of their mentors, resulted in a set of high quality policy research manuscripts, deeper and broader collaborative research networks for the Fellows and their home institutions, and enhanced professional skills.”
2020 STAAARS+ Fellow Nathan Sunday, from the Economic Policy Research Center in Uganda, feels he has benefited greatly from his time in the program, saying, “The STAAARS+ program had a significant impact on my career as a researcher. The trainings and the mentorship program greatly improved my writing skills. […] there was a lot of learning from the mentors. The program also gave us a platform to present our work to a wider international audience and receive feedback, which was helpful in improving our thought process and our research work.”
2020 STAAARS+ Fellow Karim Nchare Fogam from the African School of Economics says, “The program is a unique opportunity to benefit from the experience of senior researchers and build a strong research network that later facilitates research collaboration and gives access to professional opportunities.” Additionally, Fogam believes the program will help him increase his influence in the policy sphere noting, “I have learned outreach strategies towards policymakers and stakeholders and how to influence evidence-based policymaking.”
PRCI Director and Professor at MSU, David Tschirley, says, “I’ve been very impressed with the research efforts of the 2020 fellows. We are already seeing their efforts solidified as working papers and policy briefs, and hopefully very soon peer-reviewed journal articles. I’m confident that these researchers will have a lasting impact on agricultural policy and decision making in the years ahead.”
Now that the first group of STAAARS+ Fellows have completed the program, a second set of fellows has been selected and begun the mentoring process. The second iteration of the program has expanded to include researchers from Asia as well as Africa and is already well underway.