The International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) empowers the agribusiness community to solve critical management issues industries face so that everyone around the world can have adequate and nutritious food.

For the first time, the association awarded the Rising Star to recognize the outstanding contributions of a young professional, under the age of 35. The professional should be actively working to improve the strategic focus, transparency, sustainability, and responsiveness of the food and agribusiness system in order to ensure food security.

Alexis H. Villacis was this year’s first recipient.

“I am very honored to be the first recipient and proud the association has recognized my contributions and hard work toward social welfare,” said Villacis.

Villacis is a microeconomist studying the social welfare implications of agriculture, with a particular interest in food value chains, food security, labor issues, and behavioral economics. Currently, he is an assistant professor at Morrison School of Agribusiness, W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, where he teaches courses on agribusiness management, food policy, and data analytics.  

In addition to his research and teaching, what else made Villacis stand out?

Most people go directly from bachelor’s to master’s to Ph.D. and he didn’t do that. Villacis decided to take breaks between each degree to gain real-world experience. Between his degrees, he worked as a 1) micro-credit analyst with the National Bank of Development in Ecuador helping farmers obtain credit for their crops, 2) agricultural economics research scholar for USAID, and 3) director of agricultural policies for the Ecuadorian Department of Agriculture.

He has worked extensively in the Latin American region, including El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Most recently he is working with cacao farmers in Ecuador on the implications of behavioral issues that constrain the production of cacao beans—the main ingredient for the production of chocolate.

His experience working directly with farmers and the government on policy, coupled with his passion for sharing knowledge, he feels made him stand out.

Having a well-rounded experience inside and outside the classroom and in the workforce, he wants students to always be open to “try new things,” because you never know how a class, internship, job, or someone you interact with may change your life’s course.

“My degree from Virginia Tech gave me the foundation in economics and management. It also provided me with exceptional leadership opportunities. Professors like Jeffrey Alwang and Matt Holt mentored me and exposed me to many opportunities, and for that, I am most appreciative.” {Matthew T. Holt is also department head}

Villacis’ wife is also a graduate of Virginia Tech. Mayra Artiles graduated in 2019 with a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from the College of Engineering. The family recently welcomed, hopefully, a future Hokie, son, Sebastián.

Villacis holds a master’s in agricultural economics from Purdue University, and a bachelor’s in agribusiness management from Zamorano University in Honduras.

Connect with Villacis on LinkedIn.

By Melissa Vidmar