Purdue takes on global food insecurity challenge

April 10-11 colloquium to bring ‘front-line hunger fighters’ to campus

The number of malnourished people on the planet had been decreasing — but then something happened. Over a three-year period from 2015, the number of those impacted by hunger and food insecurity returned to levels not seen for a decade and jumped from about 785 million to 840 million.

“This planet produces enough food for everyone to have an adequate diet, but we see hunger that has been on the upswing,” said Gary R. Burniske, managing director of Purdue University’s Center for Global Food Security. “Obviously, there is something that is not working right. So why are people still going hungry?”

The difficulty of answering that question is that hunger is about more than food. Any solutions will have to untangle a web of war and peace; resources and knowledge; policy, politics and poverty; and weather and the unequal distribution of global wealth.

Because the answers for tackling food insecurity will need to be as multi-dimensional as the problem, Purdue will bring together a range of international experts and “front-line hunger fighters” on April 10 and 11 for the Ending Global Hunger Colloquium. Organized by the Center for Global Food Security, Discovery Park and the College of Agriculture, the colloquium is a signature event of the Ideas Festival, a series of presentations comemorating Purdue’s sesquicentennial celebration, 150 Years of Giant Leaps. This event aligns with one of the celebration’s Giant Leaps themes, Sustainable Economy and Planet.

Otto Doering III, a Purdue professor of agricultural economics, is co-chairing the colloquium planning committee with Gebisa Ejeta, executive director of the Center for Global Food Security, a professor of agronomy and the 2009 World Food Prize laureate. Doering said there was a substantial push to end global hunger, but that the effort seems to have lost momentum.

“The notion was to gather a number of thought leaders who have actually had boots on the ground in one place with Purdue faculty and others,” Doering said. “If we can get them in the same space to harvest their ideas and thoughts, we might be able to come up with something of an action plan for going out there and attacking the world hunger problem again.”

Burniske, who is a member of the colloquium organizing committee, said, “We wanted to get a number of what we call ‘front-line hunger fighters’ to come in from places like Africa, Latin America and Asia. These are people who have really been down in the trenches and have been at the forefront of looking at the causes of food insecurity and trying to tackle them.”

Keynote speakers for the colloquium are:

* Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, where he has dedicated his work to cutting global food loss and waste. He also has been an adviser to national governments on agriculture and food security.

* Jessica Fanzo, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Global Food Ethics and Policy Program. She has conducted research in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Africa, focusing on improving food security and nutrition for women and children.

* Dan Glickman, executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program. He served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1995-2001 and spearheaded food safety efforts, creation of conservation programs and international trade agreements to expand U.S. markets.

The two-day event also features about 30 breakout sessions, plenary presentations and panels. These sessions will be led by Purdue and other international experts such as Rob Bertram, chief scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security; Rob Horsch, who formerly led the Agricultural Research and Development team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Gregory Jaffe, director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest; Pedro Sanchez, the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a University of Florida agronomist who specializes in restoring fertility to tropical soils; and Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, the North America nutrient strategy manager for The Nature Conservancy. A full list of speakers is available online.

Burniske said a goal in organizing the event was to bring together expertise across a wide range of interconnected issues that drive food insecurity like climate change, energy, water and water availability, how food is utilized, global trade, geopolitics and policy, and the infrastructural issues that exist in simply moving food from one place to another in developing countries.

“One of the real problems in terms of hungry people today is the whole question of war and security,” Doering said. “You look at areas around the world that have serious starvation and hunger problems and, in many cases, it’s tied to civil war and other things that relate to violence. You’ve got to have civil order, right off the bat.

“It’s not just growing the food. It’s having an environment where people can grow food, it’s having the infrastructure to move the food from where it’s produced to where it’s needed, and it’s addressing grinding poverty so very poor people have the resources to buy food.”

At the end of the two-day event, Burniske hopes Purdue students and faculty, along with other attendees, create a network of people who are “likeminded and passionate about addressing global hunger.” There also are plans to highlight and prioritize key findings from the event into a paper that would be a useful tool for policymakers and others.

“I hate to say it, but I think a lot of people have become numb to hunger,” Burniske said. “We need to keep people engaged in understanding what the problems are and what the trends will be if we just continue business as usual.”

Both Burniske and Doering believe that as Purdue celebrates its 150th anniversary as a land-grant instituion, it was important to honor that historical perspective by addressing global hunger, which is among the world’s most pressing and complex challenges.

“Most of the people I’ve known over the years who’ve been involved in efforts like this have been those who believe the glass is half full,” Doering said. “You just have to be an optimist and realize there is no silver bullet, no one way to solve this problem. But, by God, maybe we can chip away at it and at least get some of the pieces right somewhere.”

The Ending Global Hunger Colloquium is free, but registration is required to attend the sessions and lunches. Registration is due by April 3 and can be completed by going online tohttps://ag.purdue.edu/EGH/registration/.


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