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08.01.2017

Fellow gains insights on food security

By: Laurel Pegorsch MIDP'18

Laurel Pegorsch MIDP'18 was one of 40 graduate students selected to participate in the U.S. Borlaug Institute on Global Food Security, an annual two-week learning program for graduate students who are interested in developing a holistic understanding of the challenges around global food security. The program was held June 4-17 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Her participation was partially funded by MIDP.

Row after row, stalks of corn filed by and extended to the horizon dotted with windmills, the industrial blades turning monotonously, completing the slow calmness of the landscape. This was my introduction to Indiana, my first time in the state, and the beginning of the two-week U.S. Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security Program.

My initial skepticism (“What could be global about the heart of America’s Cornbelt?”) quickly changed as introductions were made and Gebisa Ejeta, a 2009 World Food Prize Laureate and Director of the Center, and Gary Burniske, Managing Director with extensive international aid experience with Mercy Corps, CARE and many other organizations over his 35 year career, welcomed the participants.

I was proud and honored to be selected as the first student to represent Duke University and the Duke Center for International Development in this USAID Feed the Future-funded program, now in its sixth year of operation. Purdue University’s Center for Global Food Security gathered 40 graduate students representing 15 different countries, with disciplines ranging from political science, economics, plant pathology, international development, anthropology and engineering for two weeks in June 2017 to become champions of global food security, or in Norman Borlaug’s words: “Hunger Warriors.”

The institute bears the name of the “Father of the Green Revolution” and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Norman Borlaug, who engineered a wheat variety that fed over a billion people in Mexico, Pakistan and India in the 1960s and 1970s. His life’s dedication to feeding the world’s hungry was a reminder of the power science and technology hold, as well as a message that a problem as large, complex and fundamental as food security does not lend itself to simple solutions.

Seven elements or “grand challenges” in realizing food security in the developing world were covered over the two weeks, through guest lecturers, group discussion, and speakers from academia, industry and the public sector. The complexities and compounding elements of climate change, international trade policies, environmental risks, nutrition and water scarcity were heavy topics, but not once did I leave the room with a feeling of despair.

Optimism radiated from the collaboration of ideas and opinions, motivated by determination and grit of my fellow participants. Our unique perspectives each viewed the same problem differently, and allowed us to consider alternatives and innovative strategies, especially during final group presentations addressing country-specific food security issues. The cohort of participants became close over the duration of the program - I even befriended rival NC State and UNC students, both on scholarships to develop strategies to feed their native African countries. The Borlaug Summer Institute left me feeling confident that, by working together in multidisciplinary teams such as these, sustainable solutions can be developed.