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Hunger Fighters on a Mission to Take the Leap

Experiences from the 2017 Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security.

Team #Rwanda Celebrating our victory after our project was voted the best project. Photo Credit: Tom Campbell

Diving Deep into the Grand Challenges The 2017 Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security held from June 4 to June 17, 2017, at the Discovery Park, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN has come and gone but its lifelong impact on the budding careers of the attendees as future scientists, policymakers, research practitioners, international development facilitators and faculty will remain permanent. The summer institute was a two weeks program bringing together 40 graduate students attending U.S. universities who are interested in developing a holistic understanding of the conceptual challenges around global food security. We spent an intense 13 days diving deep into the grand challenges (biodiversity, culture, climate change, energy, finance etc.) at the root of global food insecurity and proffering solutions to it through a multifaceted approach. From the diverse array of disciplines represented, the lectures and discussions, we did not only dissect the dynamics of the problems, but we also dwelt on the potential solutions to tackling these issues and achieving global food security by promoting sustainable development and building resilient institutions and communities, to realize their potential by an approach to address hunger and food insecurity. These are systems which can withstand the effects of the sudden changes we see and, will be seeing in future. From the lectures, class practicums to the group projects and presentations, it was about bringing an end to the plague of hunger which has deprived the world of its best. It was about ensuring gender equity, empowering women, providing safe and nutritious food for children, promoting environmental sustainability, building resilient communities, and diversifying farmer’s livelihoods in response to global environmental dynamics. However, this problem of food security is complex and “wicked” as one of the speakers called it. Scientific research is not just for fun, ‘what impact is our research making in the lives of the poor and weak?’ Dr. Gebisa Ejeta recipient of 2009 World Food Prize and Director of Center for Global Food Security who also holds the position of Distinguished Professor at Purdue University in his session entitled “Purpose-driven research” made good comments to this question; “The good way to do better in any scientific realm is to better understand the problem/existing problem and align it with your research”.  He added, “Be the best scientist you can be.” This is because “when scientists use common sense, they fall into immense mistakes. It is far better to place reliance even on the softest social science”-Dr. Otto Doering

The Power of Interdisciplinary Collective Action in Hunger Mitigation The depth of the discussions was illuminative of the limitations individual disciplines face in addressing the grand challenge(s) to global food security and the great opportunities we can create and harness through collaborative multidisciplinary research. Therefore, building bridges across disciplines in whatever we do is key to addressing this complex problem of global food security and we need to “Respect others and work with them”- Dr. Gebisa Ejeta said in his words of wisdom. To put into action what we learned, as participants we were divided into groups and were assigned countries to design an innovative food security project. The experiences were splendid.  Working together in an interdisciplinary manner, we were able to come up with workable and fundable proposals fashioned to empower women and children, promote environmental sustainability, improve nutrition and bring an end to food insecurity in various country groups identified by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under Feed the Future initiative. This has helped us understand and acknowledge the power of interdisciplinary collective action in hunger mitigation.

Life-long Friendships The Summer Institute was also an excellent opportunity for us to connect with other exceptional students to discuss ideas, hatch plans, begin developing collaborations and partnerships and to make life-long friends. It was not all about rigorous learning, there was also some fun. Gary and Andrea Burniske hosted us to a sumptuous dinner at their home. It was a wonderful avenue for ‘Hunger Fighters’ to unwind, learn new cultures and dance to music from various places around the globe. In addition to this was the baseball game at Indianapolis, this was the first live baseball game for some of us and it was quite interesting watching the Indians and Clippers do their thing. Noteworthy is fellow ‘Hunger Fighter’, Demeke Bayable and his wife who also hosted us to dinner at their apartment in celebration of Cedric Habiyaremye and Mara Sanders birthdays. To cap it all, the awards dinner was an avenue to celebrate ‘Hunger Fighters’ for their hard work during the two weeks. Team Rwanda led by Cedric Habiyaremye was voted the overall best project. They have been awarded a ticket to attend the world food prize in October where another Purdue alumnus Dr. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, President of the African Development Bank will be receiving the 2017 world food prize.