Partnerships focus of world food security conference


Daniel Yohannes, left, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corp., listens as MSU President Mark E. Keenum, discusses the university's role in food security research. PHOTO: Beth Newman-Wynn | University Relations

Partnerships between leading international authorities, university researchers, and government policymakers were the focus of a daylong food safety and security conference at Mississippi State University Sept. 10.

Organized by the university's International Institute and titled "Technology Implementation at the Local Level: Food Security for the Future," the conference explored new opportunities for Mississippi agriculture, building capacity, global challenges and university engagement, and other issues related to the world's growing food needs.

Top experts from around the globe joined MSU President Mark E. Keenum and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) for the in-depth discussion.

Keenum noted that by the year 2050, the world's population will increase from 7 billion to 9 billion.

"If food production does not increase significantly, the number of people living in poverty will increase greatly," he said. "We are compelled to help feed the world and alleviate suffering, first, because it's the right thing to do, but also because it is important to our national security."

Keenum explained that Mississippi State has expertise pertinent to every aspect of the food chain, including crop production, post-harvest processing, livestock, aquaculture, food policy, water resources, geospatial technologies and biofuels.

In addition to research, Keenum said the university has formed strategic partnerships, including a memorandum of understanding for research with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, as well as a formal agreement with Nigeria to educate poultry science students, among other partnerships.

Keenum said the United States and the nation's land-grant universities have the resources to help make feeding the world an entirely achievable goal, although not an easy one.

Senator Cochran opened the morning session with a look at America's commitment to global food security, and Daniel Yohannes, CEO of Millennium Challenge Corporation, discussed why the U.S. should play an important role in solving critical global challenges.

MCC is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency created by Congress in 2004 to improve delivery of foreign assistance. Its programs focus on sound policies, country ownership and results.

Yohannes said making strategic investments in the world's poorest countries is tied to American national security and prosperity. He added that MCC's investments have long addressed food security needs, including irrigation projects and infrastructure to help get commodities from farm to market.

"Helping the world's poor helps us, too," Yohannes said, explaining that it is more cost effective to help develop poor countries than to react with military forces when problems escalate to the point of threatening security.

However, he explained development projects must proceed only with complete transparency and accountability.

Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, also spoke of the need to deliver meaningful results.

"At the end of the day, the work we do reduces the risk of conflict across the globe. It is harder to find a more powerful way to connect with people than with these types of issues," he said.

Shah reiterated that the world is facing a food security crisis, with people around the world suffering from real hunger and chronic malnutrition. He explained that Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, is bringing together collaborative entities and seeking to partner with universities like MSU.

"For every dollar invested in agricultural research, it returns about $26 over time," Shah said.

Shah also took the opportunity to announce a new program offered through his agency to help college students who want to work abroad. He said the program, called "Fall Semester," will be a resource to make sure more Americans can be part of solutions to global problems.

President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Peter McPherson also expanded on the critical role universities will play in helping find solutions for problems facing developing nations.

"To achieve the food production we're going to need, there's no way this will get done without harnessing the expertise of the land-grant system," McPherson said.

"Even if not in a position to continually have people on the ground in these countries, universities help create technology, train people and analyze situations," he added.

While speaking about the role that the collective land-grant system has to play in solving world issues, McPhereson said that because of Keenum's unique background before stepping into the role of university president, he has been "captured" by food security issues. Keenum previously held responsibility for international programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Throughout the day, panels of speakers gave presentations and engaged audience questions on topics including effectively delivering technology in a local context, monitoring and evaluating success and returns on investment, and models of success. Officials and administrators from around the world, including Mozambique, Korea and Brazil, participated in the agenda.

"This is what today is about, showing our abilities to be partners in the global arena," Keenum said.

Margaret Kovar | University Relations

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