Former BFH-HAFL student publishes her first peer-reviewed article 

12.01.2023 MSc in Life Sciences graduate Laura Kuonen discusses her recent paper, the publishing process and what she’s working on now.

While doing her master’s thesis research in Bolivia, international students and volunteers were instrumental in helping Laura (far right) prepare and plant the onion fields.
While doing her master’s thesis research in Bolivia, international students and volunteers were instrumental in helping Laura (far right) prepare and plant the onion fields.


A new paper from former BFH-HAFL student Laura Kuonen highlights the positive impact mulch has on small maize crop harvests in the tropics. 

Co-authored with Laura’s supervisor, Lindsey Norgrove, “Mulching on family maize farms in the tropics: A systematic review” disentangles the various factors which affect production of the world’s most used cereal. 

The paper collated results from 50 journal articles of experiments in Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean to confirm that mulch increases grain yield and biomass, particularly on low fertility soils and in lower rainfall areas.

Something ‘original’

The topic idea came from one of her MSc modules on scientific writing. Although not directly related to her master’s thesis, which focused on mulching in Bolivia, it complemented and built upon her expertise. 

She said choosing the paper’s topic and conducting the additional research was tough but rewarding. 

“The most difficult part of this research,” Laura said, “was to find a good and useful topic – something ‘original’ which provided new research opportunities. This took some time. I did a few preliminary literature searches and then with the help of Lindsey we decided to focus on the use of mulch in maize production in the tropics. 

“For my thesis, I carried out a field trial in Bolivia and a systematic desk review of the literature on mulching in the tropics, and examined the potential of organic mulching material to improve onion growth. So having that background knowledge really helped me with the paper.” 
 

Laura tried her hand at ploughing in Bolivia but currently has no need for big machinery on her farm in Switzerland.
Laura tried her hand at ploughing in Bolivia but currently has no need for big machinery on her farm in Switzerland, which produces grapes and vegetables.


Laura did a BSc in International Agriculture and completed her MSc in Life Sciences in Agricultural Science, majoring in Sustainable Production Systems, in 2020. 

This is her first peer-reviewed journal article. She enjoyed the publishing process but wanted others to be aware of how long it takes. 

“My advice to students would be to choose the journal wisely, to plan enough time for the review process and to not be discouraged by the feedback and the corrections,” she said. “We waited for a review for months and when it finally happened, we had to adjust a few things and justify our approach. It's quite a long and sometimes nerve-wracking process, but it improves the quality of the work.” 

Laura is now the co-director of a small botanical garden which focuses on preserving old varieties of grains and vegetables from the canton of Valais. 

“We do this by conducting research and educational projects, traditional ‘conservation’ work and by offering public visits to the garden,” she said. 

“I am also running a small farm with my boyfriend. We have a diversified production system with grapes, vegetables, fruits, and some animals. Our main product is Verjus, the juice of green grapes, which is often used in haute cuisine or by people with histamine intolerance.”
 

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