Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS) project

STAARS Individual Research Proposal Call

The application process for the 2022 STAARS cohort is closed. If you would like to be notified when our next call opens, please sign up here.


The Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS) fellowship program, a multi-institution collaboration managed by Cornell University in collaboration with the University of Sussex and the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), announces its annual call for research proposals. Early-career African researchers selected as STAARS Fellows in 2022 advance rigorous, policy-oriented research on the causal determinants of productivity and income growth, asset accumulation, rural employment and risk management in African agriculture and rural spaces.

The Fellowship covers travel and training expenses. STAARS Fellows will be paired with faculty or senior research staff mentors at Cornell University or the University of Sussex with whom they will jointly author a paper on a topic of mutual interest relating to structural transformation in Africa south of the Sahara. The program aims for publication of resulting research findings in high quality, peer-reviewed journals and as working papers. In addition, AERC, Cornell, and Sussex will facilitate Fellows’ participation in scientific and policy conferences, provide professional development training, and build Fellows' international research networks.

The STAARS Fellowship began in 2016 and to date has supported 50 Fellows from diverse backgrounds. Learn about past Fellows here.

Scope of Research and Geographic Focus

Prospective STAARS Fellows are invited to develop proposals in the following thematic areas for empirical work on Africa south of the Sahara:

  1. Dynamics of agricultural inputs use, technological change, and productivity growth
  2. Rural factor market performance, labor exits and productivity
  3. Agri-food systems and value chains, their performance and evolution
  4. Food security, nutrition and health linkages
  5. Poverty dynamics and resilience against shocks
  6. Sustainable natural resources management

STAARS Fellows’ rigorous policy analysis should use existing data, such as the Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS–ISA), Demographic and Health Surveys or similar high-quality datasets from Africa south of the Sahara.


The call is open for early career African researchers, either Ph.D. students in their final year prior to degree completion or preferably those who completed their Ph.D. no earlier than 2017. Priority is given to researchers who are African nationals based and working in – or soon returning to – Africa, with proposals relating to the research themes indicated above. Qualified female researchers are particularly encouraged to apply. STAARS welcomes applications from fresh Ph.D. graduates who can benefit from mentorship and additional training to become internationally respected and recognized researchers. Fellows are expected to complete the proposed project by submitting findings as a draft working paper by December 15, 2022, and proceeding to submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal and/or conferences by June 30, 2023.

Researchers are expected to be familiar with and have demonstrated access to existing data sets and have a strong working knowledge of appropriate software, typically Stata and/or R, and an interest in econometric analysis of high-quality data sets. Knowledge of Stata and/or R will be assessed at the finalist stage.


The selected applicants will receive funds to cover travel and participation in a three-week mentorship program at Cornell University or the University of Sussex. Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel may not be possible in 2022. The 2022 program of research coordination and professional development training will begin online and we will evaluate the feasibility of travel in mid-2022.

Fellows are expected to commit significant time to the proposed research and capacity development activities. No salary support is available; STAARS will not cover the scholar’s time allocated to this research. A letter of support from the candidate’s supervisor is required, explicitly indicating that adequate work time will be made available for full participation in the program, if selected. The program cannot support costs for any new data collection.

Program Overview

The STAARS program spans 17 months from the release of the RFP to the delivery of final outputs by the STAARS fellow. Selected STAARS fellows are matched with at least a main mentor who is a Cornell or Sussex faculty member or senior research staff and who shares an interest in the proposed topic, as well as with a (more junior) peer mentor. Upon selection, mentorship and collaboration begin immediately with a series of launch workshops involving the fellows, mentors and STAARS leadership occurring during the first six weeks of the fellowship period. A period of regular remote collaboration follows, with weekly or biweekly virtual meetings. During this period, training workshops are held at relevant points in the teams’ research process. Training workshops are designed to assist in fellows’ professional development and supplement their skills. Topics may include but are not limited to: coding and data management skills; reproducible research processes; technical writing; presentation skills; time management; grant writing; navigating peer review; research ethics; and policy engagement planning. Approximately 8 months from the release of the RFP, the STAARS teams spend 3-weeks visiting either Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, New York, USA, or Sussex's campus in Brighton, UK, at which the STAARS fellows work intensively on the research project, participate in feedback workshops, hold a public seminar, and participate in network-building activities. The Cornell and Sussex teams will coordinate closely, including joint virtual workshops and seminars.

Application Process

STAAARS+ leadership held an information webinar on Wednesday, September 14th. A recording of the session can be found here. A copy of the slides from the session, including links to referenced content, can be found here.

The STAARS Fellowship application process is managed by Cornell University, in collaboration with AERC and Sussex. Applicants must prepare a maximum 2500-word research proposal, which motivates the selected research issues and objectives, outlines data sources and proposed methodology, and contains a convincing plan for completing the project by June 30, 2023. Projects that propose to use data that are not publicly available must provide documentation that they have access to those data. All proposals shall be prepared in English. All proposals will be peer-reviewed by experts from Cornell, Sussex, and/or AERC. Shortlisted applicants will be asked to complete a Stata/R assessment to assess their qualifications in using a statistical software necessary to carry out their work. More details will be provided to shortlisted candidates at the time of notification.

The deadline to submit a research proposal is March 15, 2022 at 11:59 PM New York time. Applicants should submit their completed proposals via the STAARS online application link. Accepted applicants will be notified by early May 2022 and are expected to begin remote collaboration with their mentor and be prepared to join launch activities immediately upon acceptance. Any questions about the application process or program should be directed to

Research Proposal Template

  1. Research Proposal (2500 words max.):
  2. CV of the applicant
  3. If proposing to use data that are not publicly available, a letter or other documentation from the data steward(s) indicating that the applicant will have access to the data to use in the proposed project
  4. Letter of support from applicant’s supervisor, clearly indicating that the applicant will be granted time to work on this project, if selected
  5. Photocopy of the passport biodata page and, if applicable, any current US or UK visa

Mentor Bios

University of Sussex

Brighton, England

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

From left to right: Joanna Upton, Soumaila Gansonre, Chris Barrett, Liz Bageant, Garrick Blalock, Mumina Shibia (front), Brian Dillon (back) Margaret Jodlowski, John McPeak, Colleta Gandidzanwa, Khadijat Busola.