Rachel Bezner Kerr
Professor, Department of Global Development
Co-Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Global Development
Rachel Bezner Kerr is a Professor of Global Development at Cornell University with a background in sociology, environmental science and international development. She does long-term research in Malawi and Tanzania, using participatory research methods to test the impacts of agroecological approaches on livelihoods, nutrition and sustainable land management for rural communities.
She has published over 70 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and books, in scientific journals such as Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, Agriculture and Human Values, Social Science and Medicine, Public Health Nutrition, Global Environmental Change,Journal of Peasant Studies and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She coauthored a report for the United Nations High Level Panel of Experts which examined the potential for agroecology to address food security and nutrition. She currently serves as a Coordinating Lead Author for the chapter on climate change impacts and adaptation of food systems for the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
Engaged learning and community-based research is also a priority for Dr. Bezner Kerr. In 2020 she helped to form the local Covid-19 Food Task Force. She is the director of the Community Food Systems minor in Cornell University, which provides engaged learning experiences for students with organizations working on sustainable agriculture and food justice issues. When she is not working, Rachel loves hanging out with her family, gardening and hiking.
Rachel has four major areas of research:
- historical, political and social roots of the food system in northern Malawi;
- sustainable agriculture, food security and social processes in rural Africa;
- social relations linked to health and nutritional outcomes and
- local knowledge and climate change adaptation.
Her general approach to food systems has been holistic, interdisciplinary and collaborative, drawing from both the natural and social sciences, including collaborations with those working in agricultural and nutritional science, public health and ecology. Most of her research is also applied, community-based and participatory, involving local organizations and community members addressing ways to develop a sustainable food system. In her work, she pays attention to different scales of a problem, as well as the historical roots that shape contemporary realities. She also studies discursive framings of food issues, using post-structural and feminist theory as well as political ecology to explore agricultural practices and policies in southern Africa. Concepts drawn from agroecology, public health and international nutrition have also been important in her research. Her long-term collaborative research project has shown evidence-based improvement in nutrition, food security and soil management from agro-ecological practices in Malawi and Tanzania.
- Doctorate, Development Sociology, Cornell University, 2006
- Master of Science, Land Resources Sciences, University of Guelph, 1998
- Bachelor of Science, Cooperative International Development, University of Toronto, 1996
Food And Agriculture
Awards & Honors
- High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security & Nutrition (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Project Team for the report on “Agroecological approaches and other innovations for sustainable agriculture & food systems that enhance food security & nutrition.” (2018-2019)
- Coordinating Lead Author for Chapter 5 of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. (2018-2021
- Early Achievement Award, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (2016)
- Africa Specialty Group, American Association of Geographers, 2nd and 3rd ranked paper. (2016)
- International Faculty Fellow, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University (2016-2019; 1 of 2 selected for 3 years).
- Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University (2016-2020)
- Canadian Association of Geographers’ Julian M. Szeicz Award for Early Career Achievement (2012)
- Philip Taitz Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper, Cornell (2002)
- Collaborative International Development Studies Award: Best Thesis, University of Guelph (1999)
R. Bezner Kerr, C. Hickey, E. Lupafya & Laifolo Dakishoni . 2019. Repairing rifts or reproducing inequalities? Agroecology, food sovereignty, and gender justice in Malawi, The Journal of Peasant Studies.
Lentz, Erin, R. Bezner Kerr, Raj Patel, Laifolo Dakishoni and Esther Lupafya. 2018. The Invisible Hand that Rocks the Cradle: On the Limits of Time Use Surveys. Development and Change.
Chung, Y., S.L.Young and R. Bezner Kerr. 2018. Rethinking the value of unpaid care work: lessons from participatory visual research in central Tanzania. Gender, Place and Culture.
Patel, R., R. Bezner Kerr, L. Shumba and L. Dakishoni. 2015. Cook, eat, man, woman: Understanding the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Malawi, and its alternatives. Journal of Peasant Studies 42 (1): 21-44.
R. Bezner Kerr. 2014. Lost and Found Crops: Agrobiodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and a Feminist Political Ecology of Sorghum and Finger Millet in Northern Malawi. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104 (3): 577-593.
Richmond, C., Steckley,M., Neufeld, H., Bezner Kerr, R., Wilson, K., Dokis, B., 2020. First Nations Food Environments: Exploring the role of place, income and social connection. Accepted in Current Developments in Nutrition, June 16, 2020.
Santoso, M.V., Bezner Kerr, R., Hoddinott, J., Garigipati, P., Olmos, S., Young, S.L. 2019. What is the role of women’s empowerment in child nutrition outcomes? A systematic review. Advances in Nutrition, published online July 12, 2019.
Matare, Cynthia, Hope C. Craig, Stephanie L. Martin, Rosemary A. Kayanda, Gina M. Chapleau, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Kirk A. Dearden, Luitfrid P. Nnally, Katherine L. Dickin. Barriers and Opportunities for Improved Exclusive Breastfeeding Practices in Tanzania: Household Trials with Mothers and Fathers. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, Online publication May 7, 2019.
R. Bezner Kerr, M. Rahmanian, I. Owoputi, C. Batello. 2018. Agroecology and nutrition: transformative possibilities and challenges in Sustainable diets: linking nutrition and food systems (eds. B. Burlingame, S. Dernini).
Powell, B., R. Bezner Kerr, S. L. Young and T. Johns. 2017. The determinants of dietary diversity and nutrition: ethnonutrition knowledge of local people in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. Journal of Ethnobotany and Ethnomedicine.
Hwang, T., Ndolo, V. U., Katundu, M., Nyirenda, B., Bezner Kerr, R., Arntfield, S., & Beta, T. (2015). Provitamin A potential of landrace orange maize variety (Zea mays L.) grown in different geographical locations of central Malawi. Food Chemistry. 196:1315-1324.
Political ecology & climate change
Nightingale, A. J., Eriksen, S., Taylor, M., Forsyth, T., Pelling, M., Newsham, Boyd, E., Brown, K., Harvey, B., Jones, L., Bezner Kerr, R., Mehta, L., Otto Naess, L., Ockwell, D., Scoones, I., Tanner T. and Whitfield, S. (2019). Beyond Technical Fixes: Climate solutions and the great derangement. Climate and Development, 1–10.
R. Bezner Kerr, J. Kangmennaang, L. Dakishoni, H. Nyantakyi-Frimpong, E. Lupafya, L. Shumba, R. Msachi, G. Odei Boateng, S. S. Snapp, A. Chitaya, E. Maona, T. Gondwe, P. Nkhonjera, I. Luginaah. 2019. Participatory agroecological research on climate change adaptation improves smallholder farmer household food security and dietary diversity in Malawi. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 279: 109-121.
Bezner Kerr, R., H. Nyantakyi-Frimpong, L. Dakishoni, E. Lupafya, L. Shumba, I. Luginaah, S. S. Snapp. 2018. Knowledge politics in participatory climate change adaptation research on agroecology in Malawi. Renewal Agriculture and Food Systems.
Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H. and R. Bezner Kerr. 2015. The relative importance of climate change in the context of multiple stressors in semi-arid Ghana. Global Environmental Change 32: 40-56.
Bezner Kerr, R., & Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H. (2014). A political ecology of high-input agriculture in northern Ghana. African Geographical Review.
Bezner Kerr, R. (2012). Lessons from the old Green Revolution for the new: Social, environmental and nutritional issues for agricultural change in Africa. Progress in Development Studies. 12:213-229.
Agroecology & food
Madsen , S., R. Bezner Kerr, L. Shumba & L. Dakishoni on behalf of the SFHC team (2020). Agroecological practices of legume residue management and crop diversification for improved smallholder food security, dietary diversity and sustainable land use in Malawi, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, DOI: 10.1080/21683565.2020.1811828
Kansanga, M.M., I. Luginaah, R. Bezner Kerr, E. Lupafya & L. Dakishoni (2020) Beyond ecological synergies: examining the impact of participatory agroecology on social capital in smallholder farming communities, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 27:1, 1-14.
Pendergrast, T.L., Smith, B.J., Liebert, J.A. and R. Bezner Kerr. Introduction to the symposium: rethinking food system transformation—food sovereignty, agroecology, food justice, community action and scholarship. Agriculture and Human Values (2019).
Iragaba, P., E. Nuwamanya, E. Wembabazi, Y. Baguma, D. Dufour, E.D. Earle, R. Bezner Kerr, H.A. Tufan, M.A. Gore, R.S. Kawuki. 2019. Estimates for heritability and consumer-validation of a penetrometer method for phenotyping softness of cooked cassava roots. African Crop Science Journal 27 (2): 147-163.
S. Snapp, R. Bezner Kerr, V. Ota, D. Kane, L. Shumba & L.Dakishoni. 2019. Unpacking a crop diversity hotspot: farmer practice and preferences in Northern Malawi, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 17:2, 172-188.
Bezner Kerr, R., Young, S., Young, C., Santoso, M., Magalasi, M., Entz, M., Lupafya, E., Dakishoni, L., Morrone, V., Wolfe, D. W., & Snapp, S. (2019). Farming for change: developing a participatory curriculum on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and social equity in Malawi and Tanzania. Agriculture and Human Values. 18.
Kangmennaang, J., R. Bezner Kerr, E. Lupafya, L. Dakishoni, M. Katundu, I. Luginaah. 2017. Impact of a participatory agroecological development project on household wealth and food security in Malawi. Food Security 9: 561-576.
Wittman, H. M.J. Chappell, D. Abson; R. Bezner Kerr, J. Blesh, J. Hanspach, I. Perfecto, J. Fischer. 2017. A social-ecological perspective on harmonizing food security and biodiversity conservation. Regional Environmental Change 17(5): 1291-1301.
Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H., F. N Mambulu, R. Bezner Kerr, I. Luginaah and E. Lupafya. 2016. Agroecology and sustainable food systems: Participatory research to improve food security among HIV-affected households in northern Malawi. Social Science and Medicine 164: 89-99.
Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H., & Bezner Kerr, R. (2016). Land grabbing, social differentiation, intensified migration and food security in northern Ghana. The Journal of Peasant Studies.
For an exhaustive list of publications, please visit Rachel's ResearchGate profile.
- Farmer-led Agroecological Research in Malawi using Scenarios for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (FARMS4Biodiversity). 2019-21. Funded by the Belmont Forum and national public science programs including NSF, NSERC, German and Norwegian funding agencies. Principal Investigator (PI). Co-Principal Investigators: Dr. I. Luginaah (Western University, Canada), Dr. I. Steffan-Dewenter (Würzberg University, Germany), Dr. S. Nagothu (NIBIO, Norway), and Mrs. E. Lupafya (SFHC, Malawi). Total grant: US$ 1,195,200.
- Can enhancing diversity help scale up agriculture’s benefits to people and the environment? Funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). 2019-2021Co-investigator. Principal Investigators Dr. Zia Mehrabi and Claire Kremen (University of British Colombia).
- Farmer-led Agroecological Research in Malawi (FARM) for Biodiversity. Funded by Future Earth Program for Early Stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science. 2017-2018. Principal Investigator (PI). Co-PI: Dr. Isaac Luginaah (Western University), Dr. Aaron Iverson (Cornell University) and Mrs. Esther Lupafya (Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Organization). Total grant $93,105 for 1 year.
- United States Department of Agriculture Higher Education Curriculum (USDA-HEC) entitled Designing Integrative Land Management. 2017-2019. Co-investigator; Dr. Wendy Wolford PI (Cornell University). Total grant $150,000 over 3 years.
- Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation grant entitled Building Sustainable and Equitable Food Systems using Participatory Communication and Agroecology in Malawi. 2016-2019. Co-Principal Investigator with Co-PI Laifolo Dakishoni of the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Organization (Malawi). Total grant $390,000 over 4 years.
- McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program research grant entitled Singida Nutrition and Agroecology Project. 2015-2018. Co-Principal Investigator (PI) with Co-PIs Dr. Sera Young (Cornell) and Elias Mtinda (Action Aid Tanzania). Total grant: $600,000 over 3 years.
- Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada: Partnership for Development Grant entitled Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology. 2012-2017. Project Director with Co-PIs Trust Beta (University of Manitoba), Esther Lupafya (Ekwendeni Hospital, Malawi), Mangani Katundu (Chancellor College, University of Malawi) and Rodgers Msachi (Ekwendeni Farmer Research Team) as part of a management team. CIDA contribution $2,537,924. Total budget $3,439,300 over 5 years.
- CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals. Updating knowledge on demands for grain and stalk quality in sorghum varieties in Burkina Faso and Mali. 2014-2015. PIs: Drs. Serge Bracconnier, Sandrine Dury, Gilles Trouche and Kristen Vom Brocke. Grant held by CIRAD (France), Dr. Bezner Kerr is collaborating researcher. Total budget $40,000 for 1 year.
- McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program’s Inception Grant To Study Social Factors and Food Practices Affecting Cowpea Use in Central Tanzania. 2012-2013. PI. Total grant $US 50,000 over 1 year.
- McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program’s Studentship Grant entitled Legume Diversification Research in Southern Africa: Deepening Nutritional Impact. 2011-2014. Principal Investigator (PI). Total grant: $US167,000 over 3 years.
- International Development Research Council entitled Building Food Security and Social Resilience to Climate Change: Participatory Farmer Research on Agroecological Adaptation to Environmental Change and HIV/AIDS in Malawi. 2010-2013. Co-PI, with E. Lupafya (Ekwendeni Hospital). Collaborating institutions Ekwendeni Hospital, Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi. Total grant: $600,000; UWO portion: $125,160 over 4 years.
- Social Sciences and Humanities Council Standard Research Grant entitled Food security in northern Malawi: social resilience and smallholder farmer adaptation to environmental change. 2009-2012. PI. Total grant $125,125 over 3 years.
- International Development Research Centre Research Grant entitled Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project Phase II. 2004-2007. Co-researcher in project, PIs Dr. Peter Berti (PATH Canada) and Marko Chirwa (Ekwendeni Hospital, Malawi). Collaborating institutions PATH Canada and Ekwendeni Hospital. Total grant $464,900 over 3 years. Dr. Bezner Kerr helped to obtain this grant and the Phase I while a doctoral student.
- International Development Research Centre Research Grant entitled Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project Phase I. 2001-2004. Co-researcher in project, PIs Dr. Peter Berti (PATH Canada) and Marko Chirwa (Ekwendeni Hospital, Malawi). Collaborating institutions PATH Canada and Ekwendeni Hospital. Total grant $350,000 over 3 years.
- Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future grant entitled Seed Mixtures for Climate Resilience in Ethiopia. 2019-2021 PI Alison Power, collaborating researcher
- Engaged Cornell Faculty Research Grant entitled Farmer-led Research in Malawi Deepening Knowledge of Impact. 2017-2019
- Engaged Cornell Opportunities Grant for Farm to Plate conference
- Engaged Cornell Curriculum Development grant entitled Community Food Systems. 2016-2017. Co-PI, with Dr. Scott Peters and Dr. Phil McMichael as Co-PIs
- Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future/The Nature Conservancy grant entitled Adoption of Agroecological Farming Practices in Specialty Crops: Incentives, Barriers, and Outcomes. 2016-2018. Co-PI. Lead PIs: Dr. Matt Ryan and Sasha Gennet. Co-PIs: R. Benner, (TNC) and Dr. A. Power
- Academic Venture Fund, Atkinson Center for Sustainable Futures, Cornell University. 2014. Co-PI, entitled Participatory Curriculum Development on Agroecology, Climate Change, Child Nutrition and Social Equity in Malawi and Tanzania. Co-PI with Drs. Sera Young, Laurie Drinkwater and David Wolfe
Rachel's overall goal is to foster critical thinking and a passion for learning that goes beyond the classroom and sparks a lifetime of concern and interest in the world. Her teaching philosophy fosters critical thinking, encourages active student participation, has high expectations of students, and teaches material in creative and interesting ways. She believes that students bring valuable perspectives to the material, and the work of teaching must reflect the positive tension between established ideas, and new ways of critiquing received wisdom. She thinks that University-level teaching is both a privilege and a significant responsibility, involving mentoring and supporting students as they develop skills for future employment, learning and life in the broader global community.
- PLSCI/DSOC 1300: Just Food: Exploring the Modern Food System
- DSOC 3400: Agriculture, Food, Sustainability and Social Justice
- DSOC 7500: Food, Ecology and Agrarian Change
- DSOC 8720: Development Sociology
Outreach and Extension Focus
Rachel has three major goals for her extension and outreach work:
- to share, learn from and enhance information for those groups most immediately affected by her research findings (e.g. rural farming families in northern Malawi);
- to disseminate her findings to government agencies and non-governmental organizations who might integrate the findings into policy outcomes;
- to share her research with the broader public, in order to increase knowledge and understanding of food and agricultural issues and to foster change in our food system in North America.
In order to meet these three goals, Rachel participates in the publication of relevant materials (e.g. pamphlets, handouts), takes part in as many opportunities for public speaking events as possible, develops documents that are relevant and timely for policy-makers, and meets with relevant organizations and government officials where possible. She also travels to Malawi at least once a year and helps to organize and facilitate workshops with smallholder farmers and civil society groups regarding ongoing research findings, relevant international development topics and at times capacity-building, for example, in research methods. Instead of spreading information in one direction, she shares, learns from, and adapts information based on the specific experience of those affected by the information. Rachel also maintains a public website for her long-term partner in Malawi, a farmer-led non-profit organization, and participates in any media opportunities related to her work when possible.
262 Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
rbeznerkerr [at] cornell.edu
Rachel in the news
More than 300 faculty, staff and students from Cornell and the new Cornell Global Hubs gathered Nov. 16-17 to discuss ideas for the next universitywide Global Grand Challenge.
- Global Development
- Health + Nutrition
- Cornell AgriTech
- Cornell Botanic Gardens
- Animal Science