World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue 2012 highlights the real people affected by global food security issues

World Food Prize bannerBy Daniel O’Hara

This year’s World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue concluded on Friday with a breakfast address from the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, highlighting the importance of food security to global prosperity. The Secretary General’s attendance was an indicator of the importance of food security on the international agenda. He summed up the conference simply: that “no parent should have to choose which child to feed”.  This simple message, of real people, was at the heart of many of the presentations and discussions at this year’s Borlaug Dialogue.

Whether it was Sandra Peterson, CEO of Bayer CropScience, talking of Ak, a farmer from Malaysia, or Ambassador Ertharin Cousins, Director of the World Food Programme, visualizing a positive future for a young African girl, time and again the realities of food security were used to humanize the information and research delivered.

A range of interesting and, at times, startling research was presented. The 2012 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) report showed that increasing amounts of food are being produced in a sustainable way, but that more still needs to be done. The Global Hunger Index identified 20 countries that have alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger. Although this information informed the context, it was the stories of real people within the food security system which resonated.

One of these individuals was Rose Kamau, the Plantwise plant doctor from Kenya who brought on-the-ground experience to CABI’s panel debate on Thursday.  She answered questions varying from what technologies have helped her farmers to how gender gaps can be bridged. Her perspectives, borne of seeing farmers’ problems day-to-day, and helping them via the plant clinic she runs, made a lasting impact both on the rest of the panel and the attendees.

Ernesto Brovelli, a fellow panelist representing Coca-Cola, spoke of how private sector organizations needed to engage with people like Rose to ensure food security right through the supply chain. Margaret Catley-Carlson, a water expert, spoke of how the right knowledge, spread through people like Rose, could benefit the water system. Audience members were captured by the experiences that were described; agriculture students from Pennsylvania State University waited around after the debate to question Rose further.

This debate was part of a fascinating week full of high profile speakers, revealing reports and in-depth discussions. However what really resonated were the stories of people on the ground, from the African girl who could grow up to be an educated, prosperous farmer, to the Malaysian farmer whose entrepreneurship will make his farm ever more successful, to the plant doctor whose faith, ambition, and determination to make a lasting impact have made her plant clinics so successful.

It is Rose, and millions more like her, who will be the real custodians of food security going forward. What last week’s event showed is that we have the resources, knowledge and potential to provide the support.

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