Before coming to Purdue Sanders spent almost twelve years overseas doing his PhD fieldwork and working for the Ford Foundation in Brazil in a graduate education program (Fortaleza, Ceara), as the economist in the Bean Program in CIAT (Cali, Colombia) and representing Purdue in a university development program in Portugal (Evora).
Since 1983 he has been at Purdue teaching economic development and doing field research in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America. From 1983-2016 he has made over 125 trips to Sub-Saharan Africa concentrating his activities in West Africa. Since 2003 along with Botorou Ouendeba they have focused on a combined technology and marketing extension project. Besides the new technologies for sorghum amd millet production they have been introducing a five point marketing plan and developing farmers' associations into functioning marketing coops. Since 2010 in Mali and Senegal this pilot project was moved into national scaling up. In 2014-16 they received almost a million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation to continue and extend this work in Mali and Burkina Faso. Presently Sanders is collaborating in a Purdue project to identify some key agricultural activities and support services for the frontier of Colombia.
Sanders specializes in the economics of technological change. In 1996 his work with his graduate students of 13 years in Africa was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, The Economics of Agricultural Technology in Semiarid, Sub-Saharan Africa (co-authored with Barry Shapiro and Sunder Ramaswamy). In 2016 his graduate students had finished 30 theses and were presently working in many development agencies including Akin Adesinaa, the actual President of the African Development Bank.As of 2016 he had over 100 professional publications (journals and book chapters).Sanders has received awards from Purdue, the University of Evora in Portugal, and the national agricultural research organization (IER) of Mali.