By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – It is difficult at times here in the U.S. state with the most significant per capita obesity problem to confront the reality that hunger remains a significant national and global issue. More difficult is making the leap to accepting that food safety and security is not only a humanitarian issue, but one of national and global stability and security.
A native Mississippian, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum understands from both local and global perspective the paradox of how hunger and plenty can and does coexist in close proximity. Before becoming MSU’s chief executive in 2009, Keenum was an undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Before taking the reins at State and continuing into his presidency, Keenum has focused on international food security as both a personal and professional mission. In 2010, MSU established formal ties with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations when Keenum signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on issues related to food safety and nutrition.
“MSU is uniquely positioned to provide research, education and technological assistance in areas as broad as post-harvest processing, livestock production, water resources, and biotechnology, among many other capabilities,” said Keenum. “This university’s basic land-grant mission is to teach people to apply knowledge gained from our research to improve their daily lives and we embrace that mission here at home and abroad. From a broader standpoint, Mississippi agribusiness is likewise uniquely positioned to help feed a hungry world.”
To that end, MSU will on Sept. 10 host an international food security and safety summit called “Technology Implementation at the Local Level: Food Security for the Future” in the MSU Colvard Student Union. Specific information is available at www.research.msstate.edu/foodsecurity.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mississippi has 11.4 million acres of farmland worked by some 42,000 farmers and their employees. In Fiscal Year 2010, those operations generated a final agricultural sector output of $5.78 billion.
The state’s leading FY 2010 cash crop was poultry at $2.29 billion. Other leading commodities produced in the state include soybeans, corn, cotton and catfish.
Yet with all that food production right here in Mississippi, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in FY 2010 likewise identified 19.4 percent of Mississippi’s population as living in “food insecure households” and 6.9 percent living in “very low food security households.”
However daunting those numbers, they pale in comparison to the rest of the planet. A study of the Global Hunger Index by the International Food Policy Research Institute and others identified a food emergency in East Africa that left millions in peril due to “a perfect storm of severe drought, food price spikes, and conflict” that was worsened by the endemic poverty of the region.
In the current global economy, food and energy are emerging as factors the impact international strategic security in great measure with the same impact as weaponry. Moreover, in some cultures, food has become a weapon. Because of those facts, net food producing states like Mississippi will have increasing influence over these issues.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.