By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State University on Monday raised its international profile as a creator of food production technology with a day-long conference of leaders involved at the highest levels of worldwide food sufficiency and the role of adequate nutrition in strategic security.
MSU President Mark Keenum, a former U.S. under-secretary of agriculture directly involved in international food production issues, repeatedly pointed to a world population increase of 2 billion by 2050 and the soaring requirement for more methods and research to feed that almost unimaginable mass of humanity.
MSU, a Land Grant university with one of the nation’s leading colleges of agriculture, has long been a magnet for international students seeking knowledge about food production and necessary infrastructure to support effective farming and, it was noted, has hundreds of its own students study abroad, doing basic research on the central issues.
Keenum, in his opening comments, noted that food insecurity is a major contributor to political instability and economic ruin in some of the world’s most vulnerable nations.
Besides being “the right thing to do,” Keenum said the U.S. helps itself and other countries by developing the kind of technology applicable on the “local” level, a theme echoed by several of the participating experts.
Millennium Challenge Corporation head Daniel Yohannes and U.S. Agency for International Development director Raj Shah both cited the opportunity for food production in Africa, which has more arable land than any other country, but an irrigation rate between 1 and 5 percent. Shah, a longtime Keenum associate and friend, said Africa has enough water to make arid land masses productive with applied technology.
Shah also noted that food security investment produces a a return of $26 for every $1 spent.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and former Agriculture chairman, said he fully supports increasing food security development, noting that humanitarian responses to crises would be difficult without it.
Keenum and Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, both stressed the role of American universities in the research leading to solutions, often carried back to food-insecure regions by agriculturists who come to the U.S. to learn the best methods.
“Development is in our national interest,” Yohannes said, and quoting former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending in the Marines.”
About 300 people attended the conference, including about 70 MSU students, scores of faculty members, and a significant cadre of research leaders from other land grant universities.
MSU clearly is moving forward as a leader in food research.