MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – While the United States is facing one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, Malawi is facing a similar crisis as fuel and food prices skyrocket in the southeast African country.

West Virginia University Associate Professor of Geography Brent McCusker is using his 10 years of studies and knowledge of climate science to aid Malawi. Through his research and recent expedition to the country, McCusker will be able to study the affects the climate has had on the livelihood of Malawi residents.

McCusker’s current research will help explain the many factors involved in recent social and economic changes, such as the protests that took place in Malawi on July 20. Through his work, he will be able to better understand the effects of global economic and climate change, which have recently included rising fuel costs, food price inflation and civil unrest.

To help train the next generation of climate and social scientists at WVU, McCusker led a study abroad trip to Malawi consisting of 16 undergraduate students and one graduate student. The research equipment and materials were supported by an $85,000 grant awarded to McCusker and a co-investigator at the University of Texas at Austin by the National Science Foundation.

“The students were in Malawi for four weeks,” McCusker said. “They participated in classes during the morning and then completed some field research in the afternoons. The students traveled to local villages and spoke to residents; asking them how the current changes in climate are affecting their crop growth.

The growing season in Malawi is three months long, McCusker said, which is usually accompanied by rainfall throughout.

“There is a period of severe drought and then heavy rainfall which destroys crops. The loss of crops has caused food prices to rise sparking civil protests,” he said. “Around 95 percent of the population in Malawi is subsistence farmers; therefore they depend on the growing season for their livelihood.”

McCusker believes that the information will eventually help Malawi develop a plan to find areas within the country to successfully grow crops leading to a lowering of food prices. This research will help ensure the country’s continued economic development.

For more information, contact Brent McCusker at



CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext. 5251,

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