Author Bonphace Mangeni is a Kenyan PhD student studying Crop Protection (Plant Virology at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega, Kenya. He is a 2013 Borlaug LEAP Fellow.
This was my first time to attend the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. I was very excited to receive the news to participate in the World Food Prize 2017 events as a delegate selected by Borlaug LEAP. It was an opportunity to meet with the powers driving global agriculture and food production.
It was the first event I have attended in the U.S. where people from academia, research, donors, government institutions and the private sector came together to address critical issues facing global food security and nutrition. The main event, the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, where different panelists discussed achievements and presented work and challenges encountered in promoting food security was very insightful.
We started the week with the Eleventh Annual Iowa Hunger Summit with a panel of US secretaries of Agriculture discussing food insecurity and giving insights on how we can collectively fast track measures to fight hunger.
The side events I attended were awesome. I learned about the work different organizations were doing from presentations and informational materials. The most interesting discussions I participated in were about (i) Making farming cool: Investing in the future of African farmers and Agripreneurs, (ii) Designing a “road out of poverty” (which was the theme of the symposium) through resource access, and (iii) USAID’s Board for International Food and Agricultural development (BIFAD) meeting on building an evidence based resilience so that households that are out of poverty do not fall back into poverty when faced with shocks such as droughts.
A breakfast notable discussion with DuPont on Seed security for Food security was an eye opener. It became obvious from the interaction that seed security and crop diversity is critical in global food security and agricultural sustainability. This resonates well with my study in promoting the Kenya government’s plans to develop bean seed sub sector by facilitating new varieties and encouraging private sector investment in the industry.
Another notable side event was on the fall armyworm: A clear and present danger to African food security. Kenya has notably been hit this year by the armyworm that destroyed Maize, a major staple food crop in Kenya. The panel explored the threat in-depth, discussing measures to prevent the worst effects of armyworm spread, and how the international community can accelerate its response to the looming crisis. I am lucky to have attended such and I have already started sharing the knowledge with community-based organizations in my rural area, Busia, Western Kenya on armyworm mitigating measures.
It was interesting to listen to panelists and delegates with divergent views who eventually came to a common position. I learned about the policies used in different parts of the world to support farmers’ access to agricultural technologies, financing and markets. The key message I got from the symposium was for all stakeholders to promote and practice agriculture as a business and a way out of poverty, and not to manage poverty.
Apart from the side events, there were a number of social gatherings where I had the opportunity to network, create new friendships and bond with fellow Borlaug LEAP scholars from other universities.
Through my interaction with the 2016 WFP Laureates and Mrs. Jeanie Borlaug Laube, daughter of Dr. Borlaug, it became apparent that we have a collective responsibility to reduce hunger, poverty and revitalize communities. We need to follow the footsteps of Dr. Borlaug in being persistent, innovative and able to communicate with any person in any culture and situation. In addition, we need to possess desired leadership qualities and conduct quality field research that will benefit farmers.
Interacting with high school students, their teachers and young Borlaug-Ruan International interns at WFP events gave me a wider picture of the degree of youth involvement in global projects dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger. This motivated me to continue with the course of nurturing students in high schools in rural parts of Kenya to understand and grow with knowledge and skills to find solutions useful in combating food insecurity.
Young people being the cornerstone of African agriculture progress, it is important for the government and private sector to create opportunities for them to fight hunger and malnutrition globally. These were sentiments echoed by Rajiv Shah, President of Rockefeller foundation; Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African development bank; Amb. Kenneth Quinn, Chair, World food Prize; and Enock Chikava, Deputy Director, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation during our interactions.
The highlight of WFP events that made a big impression on me was the ceremony awarding the Laureate, H.E Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the president of African development bank at the Iowa State Capitol. The laureate’s speech taught me the need for perseverance and dedication in the pursuit of technologies to address food production in the face of climate change. “We will arise and feed Africa. A day is coming very soon when the barns of Africa will be filled, when all of its children will be well fed. When millions of smallholder farmers will be able to send their kids to school. Then you will hear a new song across Africa. Our lives are better!” said Dr. Adesina.
Second, I was impressed by the Field Research and Application Award endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation to Dr. Zhenling Cui. As a young research scientist with special interest in sustainable food production in the face of climate change, the 2017 Laureate and Dr. Cui have inspired me to give my best. I am inspired to face the challenges of fighting hunger in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Inspired by a popular saying of Dr. Borlaug, I want to develop new technologies and “take it to the farmer.”
The experience from the WFP events gives me the sense of urgency to do my part to fill the barns of Africa – at the very least with beans, one of the most important staple crops in Kenya that I am currently researching for my thesis.
According to Dr. Jayson Lusk (2017 winner of the Borlaug CAST communication award), there is a growing divergence between urban eaters and rural growers, inequality and divergence in food preferences of the rich and poor, and diverging population trends in high- and low-income countries. He insisted that it is important to communicate the story in a way that appeals to urban and rural values. He also discussed the need for innovations to make food nutritious and tastier. The policy stakeholders have an important role in ensuring that the challenges are addressed urgently as expressed by Faustine Wabwire, Senior policy advisor at Bread for the World Institute., Washington DC.
In the wake of greater challenges in the world with respect to global peace, fragility and conflict, there is only one way to ensure peaceful, secure and sustainable nations: eradicating hunger and poverty in all its forms. This will require everyone’s individual contribution and effort, in whatever capacity, in working toward achieving this noble course.