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Student interns plan to feed the world

Michael Cox Published on 06 August 2015

college interns

For the U.S. dairy farmer, global food security may seem irrelevant or idealistic, but as 10 college interns are discovering this summer, this issue affects everyone, especially farmers.

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“Global food security affects people more than they realize,” says Jennifer Hyman, director of communications at Land O’Lakes International Development. “Fewer than 2 percent of Americans are involved in food production, but the reality is everyone has to eat, and in our global market, that reality does not always hold true.”

To help address the challenges of global food security and improve the lives of millions around the world, Land O’Lakes has initiated a “Global Food Challenge: Emerging Leaders for Food Security” internship this summer.

interns on a dairy

The internship offers 10 college sophomores the opportunity to identify innovative and practical ways to meet the world’s need for a 70 percent increase in global food production by 2050. Students are selected from a broad range of agriculture, business, media and engineering backgrounds.

The aim of the internship is to allow students to develop achievable and realistic solutions to solve global food security.

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Commercial benefit

Throughout the internship, the students will develop individual solutions to food security and assess the viability of their implementation in the future. Most of the solutions address basic problems such as food spoilage, grain storage and poor transport links in developing countries. Hyman claims there can be future commercial benefits to this type of “development aid” work abroad.

“In the past there was a stark divide between non-profit and commercial development, but businesses can invest and do good at the same time,” Hyman claims. Global food security has had connotations of an “us helping them” situation, but development work and improving small-farm viability can generate future market opportunities for U.S. businesses.

students at a dairy

While most of the interns’ solutions focus on third world development, some food security ideas are practical for first world cities such as vertical farming (greenhouses on skyscrapers) and encouraging consumers to buy locally grown foods which will reduce transport emissions.

Potential solutions

Trey Forsyth, an agricultural business student from Iowa State University, is hoping his idea of establishing advocacy for co-ops in Malawi can help the global food security cause.

The U.S. co-op system is a proven model of success, providing membership to 2.8 million people across 3,000 co-ops while generating a turnover of $11 billion. The potential opportunity for co-ops in Malawi is enormous as 85 percent of the 16 million population are involved in agriculture. “The main challenge is a lack of regulation and co-op-friendly laws,” Forsyth says.

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dairy barn tour“In the U.S., we have laws regulating government involvement in co-ops to prevent them from becoming a political platform; those laws simply don’t exist in Malawi.” Forsyth is particularly excited about the interns’ trip to Washington, D.C., where he hopes to learn more about how co-ops advocate on behalf of their members.

“Each intern has interesting ideas, and a combination of solutions will be needed to feed the world. There’s no magic solution,” says Mandi Egeland, an entrepreneurial management and management information systems student from University of Minnesota.

“My focus is on GMOs and food technology, but throughout the internship, we have assignments to assess the suitability of different solutions working together, e.g., GMOs with vertical farming and co-ops.

“GMOs have been shown to sustainably improve yields, biodiversity and water conservation, but unfortunately 80 percent of consumers don’t want to buy GMO foods,” Egeland says. As part of her research, Egeland is assessing ways to promote the positives of food technology and make GMO science research more “consumable” for consumers.

feeding cows“My research has shown there’s a huge knowledge gap among consumers about GMO foods. Packaging, labels and rebranding could help educate consumers and promote these sustainable foods.”

Striving for sustainability

Sustainable farming was a key topic of discussion among the interns during their recent visit to JTP Dairy Farms, Dorchester, Wisconsin. “For me, sustainability means getting the most milk out of the cows while implementing safe practices for the cows, the environment and food safety,” says farm owner Jake Peissig.

It’s important we do our part to supply the best food possible year-in-year-out, he says. Investment in four milking robots, cross-ventilation and sand bedding for cow comfort has ensured Peissig can maintain high levels of output into the future in a secure and sustainable fashion.

cows in a field

While technological advances help U.S. farmers improve efficiency, the vast majority of additional food needed to feed the world’s growing population will come from underutilized land in Africa. “We have to start small and promote practices which seem basic to U.S. farmers, like using certified seed or matching livestock to land type,” Hyman explains.

The interns experienced firsthand the differences between U.S. and African agriculture when they visited Malawi and Zambia recently. “This was a great opportunity for the interns to find out if their ideas are feasible and appropriate to the local conditions,” Hyman says.

“We don’t expect our interns to feed the world in one summer – but to gain a deep understanding of this issue and influence the people around them. History has a way of repeating itself, and who knows, we may have the next Norman Borlaug in our midst.” PD

Michael Cox is a Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

PHOTOS: Photos courtesy of Land O’Lakes Inc.

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