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Hardin award celebrates Ricker-Gilbert's success within global agriculture and food systems

Throughout his career, Jacob Ricker-Gilbert, professor and interim associate head of Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, has demonstrated a passion for and commitment to global agriculture and food systems. For this persistent pursuit, Purdue’s College of Agriculture will award Ricker-Gilbert the 2024 Lowell S. Hardin Award for Excellence in International Agriculture on Friday (May 10). The award, named in honor of Professor Lowell Hardin, recognizes significant contributions of College of Agriculture faculty members to international activities.

“I’ve always been curious about why people make certain decisions and the interconnectedness of the world,” Ricker-Gilbert said. “International agriculture has given me the opportunity to search for solutions to real issues and the motivation to make an impact.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in community development and applied economics at the University of Vermont, Ricker-Gilbert completed his master’s in agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech, where he also started working with USDA economic research in Bangladesh. While earning his doctorate at Michigan State University, Ricker-Gilbert pursued his passion for international agriculture. Working on his dissertation, “Subsidies for Fertilizer for Farmers in Malawi,” set the course for his international work at Purdue.

“Going to the field and seeing the issues firsthand and trying to understand those issues is something that motivates me,” Ricker-Gilbert said.

Since joining the faculty at Purdue in 2011, Ricker-Gilbert has developed a well-funded and internationally recognized research program around the economics of sustainable smallholder agricultural intensification, mainly focused on sub-Saharan Africa. His curiosity about why people make certain decisions and his observations regarding the interconnectedness of the world have driven him to search for real solutions.

“Professor Ricker-Gilbert’s work has made a significant contribution to increasing awareness of development issues in Africa in general, and raising awareness and understanding of the economics of post-harvest (PH) technologies and PH losses in the developing world and sub-Saharan Africa in particular,” said Tahirou Abdoulaye, principal scientist and director of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s Sahel Africa hub in Mali.

“Beyond contributing to the academic literature, his research has had an impact on decisions made by policymakers and the private sector in Africa, as well as on international donors,” said Holly Wang, professor of agricultural economics.

Jacob Ricker-Gilbert stands at the doorway entrance of a blue Kalamba Agro-Vet & Animal Feeds storefront

Among the core topics Ricker-Gilbert studies are the economic and livelihood impacts of subsidies and farmland markets in Africa, the economics of smallholder farm households’ post-harvest decisions and farm household adaptations to climate change.  

“Purdue’s College of Agriculture is recognized worldwide for our important contributions to problem-solving,” said Gerald Shively, associate dean and director of Purdue’s International Programs in Agriculture. “This stellar global reputation doesn’t arise by accident. It results from the tireless efforts of individuals like Professor Ricker-Gilbert who are working to improve agriculture, rural economies and the human condition. It is extremely fitting that we honor Jake’s work with this award for his outstanding contributions in international research, teaching and engagement.”

Ricker-Gilbert also works closely with numerous graduate students, and they are an important component of his international research program. He has chaired or co-chaired committees for 11 MS students and eight PhD students. His graduate students have gone on to work for such international organizations and universities as the World Bank, Catholic Relief Services, Malawi University of Science and Technology, and the University of Arizona.  

“In addition to his directly impactful research, Professor Ricker-Gilbert has been committed to training young African scholars,” Abdoulaye said. “In his 12 years at Purdue, he has advised graduate students from Malawi, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. His work has been recognized professionally and he now serves as co-editor of Agricultural Economics, the flagship journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, and (as) a member of the editorial board of the African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the flagship journal of African Association of Agricultural Economists.”

“I’ve always chased opportunities when they arise, and this is something I tell my students. Be prepared to jump at an opportunity when it’s in front of you,” Ricker-Gilbert said.

The Office of International Programs in Purdue University’s College of Agriculture will host a ceremony and reception in Pfendler Hall, Room 241, from 1-2:30 p.m. ET Friday (May 10) to honor Ricker-Gilbert.

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