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Famine solutions to be discussed

September 8, 2012


The Mississippi State University International Institute will bring together international experts and national policy makers for “Technology Implementation at the Local Level: Food Security for the Future,” a day-long conference starting at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Colvard Student Union.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran will give an opening address on the American commitment to global food security. Other special guests set to speak throughout the day include Daniel Yohannes, Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO; Peter McPherson, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities president; Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Daniel Gustafson of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Benjy Mikel, MSU International Institute Executive Director, said the event is free and open to the public, and prospective guests can register at security any time. He said he wants all of the area’s best and brightest minds engaged in the conference, because its goal is to make people more aware how important globalization is in all aspects of life.

“This is a new venture for MSU. Although we have a rich history of helping others abroad in the past, this is the first conference of its type I am aware of where we are bringing in the leadership like we are from around the globe,” Mikel said. “When (MSU President Mark) Keenum and I started talking about the vision of the university to be globally engaged, this became a natural event where we expose MSU and Starkville to the vision of national leaders but also showcase to them what MSU is capable of contributing.”

Keenum said MSU has a long history of working in international food sustainability. For instance, in 2010, Keenum signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.N.’s FAO to collaborate on food safety and nutrition issues, and Keenum said few other land-grant organizations have such an MOU.

“We’ve also done work with the U.N. World Food Program, the humanitarian arm of the U.N. that provides direct aid,” Keenum said. “Our scientists at MSU helped the WFP to develop a new food product they’re using in their feeding programs. It’s one example of how our university can be engaged to help address a critical need.”

Keenum said a lot of the same food security challenges are in place today as there were when he was undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of an estimated 7 billion people living on Earth today, he said, an estimated 1 billion are malnourished.

“When you have 10 million children five years and under dying every year ... one of the easiest things we can do to save a life is give a child enough to eat,” Keenum said. “It’s in our interest as a nation to reach out and help those in need. We have a lot of capabilities (at MSU) to address not only needs here in the state but also at the national and international level.”

Mikel said recent droughts in the U.S. and in Mississippi are expected to impact foreign food aid, including the ability of institutions like MSU to address producers’ needs.

“Although we often consider ourselves blessed with abundant resources to produce food, we are now understanding that a climate shift or the occasional drought can place our production in harm’s way just like others suffer routinely around the world,” Mikel said. “Faculty and students have already been on the cutting edge, conducting research that will have a positive impact on helping to meet growing food security needs by the year 2050. Work on climate prediction, crop/seed modifications to meet various growing parameters, post-harvest handling and emergency food product development are currently under way through the university.”

Mikel said there is more to food security than increasing agricultural production and decreasing food waste. For that reason, he said, all of MSU’s colleges work toward the changes needed to keep the world from going hungry.

“A sustainable food system draws upon, in addition to enhanced agricultural production and food processing, civil stability and public policy, social and education reform, enhanced fiscal infrastructure and economic development,” Mikel said. “MSU has a vast array of expertise to bring to bear on food security.”

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