Panelists discuss food secuirty

Panelists discuss global food security. From left to right: professors Gebisa Ejeta, Gary Burniske, Indrajeet Chaubey, John Lumkes, Sylvie Brouder, Thomas Hertel, and former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar.

"Purdue University is a place of outreach concerning food security to universities all over the world," former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar said this morning, urging students to become involved in the international effort to combat food insecurity.

Room 241 in Pfendler Hall was filled nearly to capacity as professors and students alike crowded in to hear the senator speak and ask questions.

Karen Plaut, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, presided over the event, which involved seven panelists besides Lugar: professors Gebisa Ejeta, Gary Burniske, Indrajeet Chaubey, John Lumkes, Sylvie Brouder, and Thomas Hertel.

Lugar represented Indiana as a member of the Rep. party from 1977 to 2013. According to a press release by Purdue University, he stands as the current president of The Lugar Center in Washington D.C., a nonprofit that aims to end food insecurity and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as promote bipartisan leadership in the U.S. government.

Ejeta, a distinguished professor of agronomy and the 2009 World Food Prize laureate, kicked off the discussion by talking about his work with those dealing with food insecurity in Ethiopia and other parts of Eastern Africa.

"Although the world has made progress," Ejeta said, "there are still many people in the world suffering from malnutrition, many of them children."

He pointed out that issues of food security have just as much to do with access to clean water and proper nutrition as with caloric intake. He said that in developing countries, global warming can also threaten food security.

According to Ejeta, farmable space becomes more limited as temperatures and water levels rise. New technologies are being constructed to help combat these changes, but the panelists agreed they are not enough.

"Scientific improvements and technologies are only helpful when they are layered upon human institutions (...) and policies," Ejeta said.

He praised Lugar and his nonprofit organization for valuing science and human life by aiming to preserve natural resources and provide nutritious food to those who lack it.

Lugar emphasized the value of human life in simple terms while talking about his efforts to battle food insecurity abroad.

"We are human beings," he said, "and we respect the fact that human beings need food to live. It's up to us to decide how our leadership can help."

Instead of using U.S. taxpayer money to send food or supplies to those in poverty, Lugar thinks it would be a worthwhile idea to consider using it to purchase goods from developing countries.

He said that the plan is not without controversy, as he expects many Americans to balk at the idea of buying foreign food rather than homeland-grown produce, but it might help small farmers grow their businesses abroad.

Lugar warned that, controversial or not, any actions taken will be rendered useless if the climate continues to change at its current rate.

"Even if we were very successful with the spread of our university ideas (they will be overturned) by global warming," he said.

The panelists also discussed the difficulty of adapting new technology to the agricultural systems and demands of various countries. Economics, the use of genetically modified organisms and accessibility all came into play.

Chaubey, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, pointed out that a lack of access to clean water can counteract any nutritional value that people in developing countries may gain with their food.

"When you don't have enough water, doing things to make sure the water you do have is not contaminated is not the first thing on your mind," he said.

According to Chaubey, illness and irritated bowel movements can make the retention of nutrition very difficult and often leads to the stunted growth of children.

The panelists agreed it is essential to focus on the global improvement of both food and water sources if we are to progress as an international society.

Brouder, a professor of agronomy, said that working to make sure technologies can be properly used in agricultural contexts outside of the U.S. is paramount to this progress.

"We do not work as hard on the adaptation of the technology to the local context as we work on developing the technology itself," she said. "We don't always know what it's end use will be but we would do better as scientists to keep delivery in mind."

Brouder expanded on her statement, explaining that by "delivery," she meant the forms of technology that scientists would be able to pitch to farmers for sale and use abroad.

She also stressed the dangers of global warming and its impact on both new technologies and the future of agriculture in general.

"If you have an ecological perspective, you understand that there will be tradeoffs," she said. "There will be winners and losers. If you don't know who the losers are, wait some years. There are always trade-offs where Mother Nature is concerned."

While much of the lecture pointed toward dark realities of the dangers of food insecurity, Plaut reminded everyone of the hope that can be brought when people like the panelists put their minds together to come up with solutions for change.

"We need a second Green Revolution," she said. "We need all of us to make a difference in the long term."

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