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April 11, 2012 Volume 33, No. 27

Three-day forum explores ways to lessen global hunger

Food forum

WORLD HUNGER Chancellor Brady Deaton and Bill Davies (shown in picture), a sustainable agriculture expert, took part in a lecture on feeding the world held in the Bond Life Sciences Center’s Monsanto Auditorium. Mary Fama photo.


Deaton asks scientists to get involved in solving world hunger

Chancellor Brady J. Deaton and Bill Davies, a sustainable agriculture expert, talked basic necessities — food and water — in an April 4 hunger forum in the Bond Life Sciences Center’s Monsanto Auditorium.

The three-day Mizzou Advantage workshop, called "Roots Under Drought — Model Systems to the Field," began April 2 with the goal of enhancing student education and strengthening relationships with key international scientists and institutions. Deaton and Davies took part in the final workshop that was titled "The Water and Food Connection."

Food experts say all aspects of government are needed to address food security and hunger. Deaton called for scientists to get involved, as well.

Deaton was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama to lead the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development; and Davies is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Lancaster Environment Centre, one of the top environmental centers in the world.

Davies said that the people who need more food live in areas where water is scarce. “We need a revolution,” he said. “We need to produce more, but we need to produce more with less.”

The forum touched on points made in the inaugural Christopher “Kit” Bond Distinguished Lecture March 14. In that lecture, international agriculture experts and scientists proposed sustainable approaches to increasing food production and preventing rising food costs that in the past have led to social unrest in more than 30 countries. Deaton joined speakers Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States, and Roger Beachy, president emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. 

In the April 4 workshop, the chancellor revisited discussion about the necessity of applicable scientific research to feed the 1 billion malnourished around the world. 

He said Norman Borlaug, an agronomist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives in a massive green revolution that nearly doubled wheat production in Pakistan and India.

“Most people are now calling for another green revolution,” Deaton said. “With all the genomics work that is underway and the very important scientific work across the life sciences spectrum, we have the potential of changing the nature of human health in the world today.”

Using science to solve the communal and international problem of hunger is part of MU’s mission as a land-grant university, Deaton said, highlighting this year’s 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act that established land-grant colleges in 1862.

The sciences of nutrition, medicine, health and food production and their application to farming practices would have to be a part of feeding the malnourished. 

Deaton said the notion that simple applied science to effect change in Third World countries is dumb-downed science is inaccurate and damaging to progress, as is the belief that agriculture is not important.    

“I have underestimated in my career how ignorant well-intended people can be,” Deaton said.

Feeding a global population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 would require not only more food, but also understanding distribution, nutritional value, the cultural issues surrounding food, and the effects of food production on the economy and environment, Davies said. 

Davies discussed crop science and manipulating root and soil biology in dry conditions to produce more crops. He said change will come from wasting less and making use of the opportunities climate change offers.

“The time is now,” he said. “In my view, this is the opportunity.”

— Lauren Foreman