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MSU PhD Student Studying Land Use, Human Health in Malawi

April Frake

Michigan State University doctoral student April Frake is conducting research in the Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme (BVIS) and surrounding area, located in central Malawi to determine the impact of land use and land cover change (LULCC) on human health. In particular, she is asking whether the current approach to addressing food security—turning more land over for irrigated agriculture—is negatively impacting human health by providing more habitat for malaria-carrying mosquitoes throughout both the rainy and dry seasons.

The BVIS was established in 2000 to increase the production of certain crops—like rice, maize, soybean, and cowpea—through irrigation. This means Frake can compare probable mosquito habitat in the scheme with the surrounding region. Her partners in Malawi include fellow researchers from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), the University of Malawi, and, in a less formal sense, the estimated 2,000 small shareholder farmers who grow crops in the scheme.

“Often farmers are curious as to why I am there and what I am doing,” Frake said. “These opportunities allow me to share with them briefly how the surveys I am conducting work to inform our understanding of agricultural growth and mosquito development across the scheme.”

From the farmers, she learns about their experience participating in the BVIS—how long they’ve been members, what they are growing, and how the scheme has impacted the economy and helped them economically. Many of these farmers are participants in a larger malariometric and vector survey Frake is a part of in the area’s surrounding villages, so they also often share the experiences they and their families have had with malaria.

This is the NIH FRAME Malaria Survey at Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme. The project is a collaboration between MSU, LUANAR, and the University of Malawi. Researchers are testing the hypothesis that transforming land for irrigated agriculture increases malaria vulnerability for those residing in close proximity to irrigation schemes. The project includes faculty members from each of these institutions along with six post-doctoral fellows.

“Environmental change is often rooted in human decision making,” she said. “Through building relationships with farmers in the local area I am able to better understand the thought processes and drivers behind some of these decisions at the local scale and in turn reflect on how they may impact my larger research questions.”

  • excerpted from “The Engaged Scholar;” written by Matt Forster, University Outreach and Engagement

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