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Frugal Innovation Practicum

GCFSI's Frugal Innovation Practicum (FIP) is an experiential, service-learning opportunity for students in diverse disciplines at MSU and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi, Africa. Through action research at urban food markets and collaborative activities with food retailers, students in the Frugal Innovation Practicum learn about challenges associated with food security, urban food systems, and food-based livelihoods. At the same time, the students are provided with a forum to think critically and act creatively to find solutions.

Led by Dr. Stephanie White, the two-month practicum involves online and in-person instruction, local outings, and two weeks of hands-on fieldwork in Lilongwe's urban food markets. While in Malawi, MSU and LUANAR students work in teams, drawing on and applying their diverse disciplinary perspectives and skill sets to develop research plans, carry them out, and, ultimately, present their findings and recommendations to municipal decision-makers and LUANAR faculty members. In particular, students are tasked with understanding the food system as an 'innovation system,' and with identifying issues that block innovation, limit profits, and undermine food security. Through a systems approach that stresses the integrated dimensions of food exchange and provisioning, students identify areas that have the potential to be improved through low-cost solutions, such as strengthening the lines of communication between market vendors and the city council that develops and administers market policies.

The impact of the FIP is evident. Based on the work of the 2015 cohort, the Lilongwe City Council adopted the Local Revenue Enhancement Strategic Plan, which sets aside 25 percent of the funds collected from market revenue for infrastructure development in those markets. “As a Council, we are very grateful to the students, MSU and LUANAR,” said Genscher M'bwabwa, Director of Commerce, Industry and Trade. “The policy briefs produced by the students were very brilliant and exposed the Council's shortcomings (especially the Department of Commerce) in providing a conducive environment for business. The fund will be used primarily for infrastructural development... (and) will also address the other challenges observed by the students, such as transparency and accountability, sanitation, and communication. It will be demand-driven; thus, traders themselves (can determine) what they want to be done in their market."

In 2016, and with the help of $1,200 Schoenl Family Undergraduate grant awarded to Trish Abalo (FIP '15) and an MSU crowdfunding effort, FIP students and market communities developed four market-improvement plans during two planning 'charrettes.' Managed by the market committees, the projects include upgrading market restrooms, building a security gate, and installing lighting. The fourth market will use the funds to assist with rebuilding after recently undergoing a devastating fire.

In 2017, the crowdfunding effort was repeated, and MSU raised $2,550 via CrowdPower campaign. This great win from generous donors was followed up with another fundraising campaign launched by LUANAR students. They raised over $1,300 from local donors, including a $500 pledge from university management. The funds will be used to implement student-driven innovation plans in Lilongwe's Mitundu and Waka Waka markets. 

Informing the FIP

City-Regional Food Systems Research

Regional Supply Chains and the Food Economy of Malawi: Expanding Livelihood Opportunities and Enhancing Food Security.

Released in October 2017, this research brief draws on data collected in April 2017 in Lilongwe, Markets. The work is a collaboration between researchers at MSU and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Stephanie A. White, Jessica Kampanje-Phiri, Michael W. Hamm, Kurt Richter and Carolyn Phiri. 

"This brief provides an overview of a unique data set that
begins to systematically examine the regional supply chain
in Lilongwe, Malawi. Sometimes referred to as 'informal'
or 'traditional,' the regional food sector is critical to rural
and urban food security and is a common and important
source of income for men and women along the value
chain and throughout the country. It will remain important
to urban/rural food security and livelihood for decades."


Ruth's Legumes: Small-Scale Urban Food Trade in Lilongwe

(Video below)

The traditional food sector in cities of the global south are an important forum for urban livelihoods, and critical to providing broad access to food for urban residents. In this video, GCFSI researchers follow legume trader, Ruth Ndingo, as they explore the traditional food provisioning and exchange environment in Lilongwe, Malawi. 

Students apply coursework to real world challenges

(Video below)

Dr. Stephanie White discusses how the Frugal Innovation Practicum benefits students of any major, whether you're studying agriculture, international development, African studies, or a seemingly unrelated field. The FIP gives students the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge learned in class to real world challenges.

Field trip explores local food system

(Video below)

In preparation for the field work conducted in Lilongwe, Malawi, MSU students learn about food systems and innovation through coursework and local site visits.

FIP Documentary 

(Video below)

Watch and listen to students, city council members, and program leaders as they discuss the impact of the FIP in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Student Testimonial

“I am really excited to hear that something concrete came out of our work,” said Christine Sauer (FIP '15). “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. One of my favorite sayings is ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,’ and I think in many ways this program pushed us well beyond our comfort zones—but we got so much in return. To anybody considering doing the FIP this year, I would tell them to not even think twice about it—just do it! You will learn so much—about food systems, of course, but also about yourself and your capabilities.”





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