Selling fruits and vegetables for a living is an important job. People who do this work save us time and effort. In African cities, people who sell fruits and vegetables are often in business for themselves and commonly work in lively open-aired markets similar to farmers’ markets in the United States. They make good and nutritious food available to city residents at reasonable prices and within walking distance of most peoples’ homes.
As any small businessperson will tell you, being in business for yourself means having to carry out all the tasks that, in a larger organization, would be divided up among multiple people. In African cities, food retailers’ jobs are further complicated by a range of issues that small businesspeople in the U.S. never have to consider. Imagine, for example, doing this important job in an environment where basic amenities are absent and where the struggle to grow your razor-thin profit margins is frustrated by the fact that you have to pay to use the bathroom; where electricity is in short supply and you sometimes have to navigate the uneven and narrow market paths in the dark; and where storage facilities are inadequate or unavailable so that you either leave your product out at night, risking theft, or hauling it elsewhere before going home.
These are the everyday issues that students in the Frugal Innovation Practicum set out to solve.
Specializing in the fields of engineering, public health, agricultural economics, and more, eight students from MSU and their counterparts from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources spend the summer learning about food system challenges, which includes two weeks in two of Malawi’s many urban food markets.
Conducting on-the-ground action research and creative problem solving, the students are charged with identifying the direst needs within two of Lilongwe’s 40-plus food markets, Mitundu, and Area 36.
Student teams consult with market committees, decision-makers and the Lilongwe City Council to develop sustainable, feasible, and locally-controlled plans to address the market’s underlying challenges.
All funds raised by CrowdPower will go directly to implementing the student-advised plans to improve conditions within the two markets where students will be working. Our goal of $2,500 will provide each of the four student groups with $625 to make infrastructure improvements.
Last year, crowdsourced funds enabled the installation of community taps so more people could have access to clean and running water; installation of a gate to improve market security; and installation of restroom facilities.
“I am really excited that something concrete came out of our work,” said Christine Sauer, former FIP participant. “The city council actually listened to our presentations and took action on some of the issues we raised; it means that the work we did was meaningful. The FIP was honestly one of the greatest things I've ever done.”
We are the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI), and we work to prepare the next generation of problem-solvers who will face our considerable food system challenges. One of eight development labs established through the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development, GCFSI is housed within MSU’s International Studies and Programs unit. Through research and capacity-building activities, we create, test, and enable the scaling of food security solutions.
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