Students can get involved with USAID and Peace Corps and feed the future

Eric Debner

After a slight delay from an emergency drill, Rajiv Shah, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, and Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting Peace Corps director, presented the World Affairs Series keynote address “Feed the Future: Food Security and Agricultural Development” in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

Shah took the podium and began the presentation by recognizing the contributions Iowa State has made in the Feed the Future food security initiative. Iowa State has some of the world’s finest genomic-based agricultural breeding programs linked to some of the best-known and effective extension systems in the country, Shah said.

Iowa State-based Seed Science Center performs tests on more than 40,000 seed samples annually and continues to do project work on seed policy and regulation in more than 30 countries today.

“We’re proud of the very significant partnerships we have here [at Iowa State] already,” Shah said. “Partnerships that help advance biosafety and seed development; partnerships that help address the impact of climate change on food and hunger; partnerships that help us collectively measure malnutrition in [developing] countries.”

Shah went on to discuss the importance of people having access to a sustainable supply of nutritious food. Eating the proper amount of nutritious food affects not only a person’s physical growth but also mental growth. Shah said recent science and data shows an undeniable connection to chronic malnutrition and a person’s lifelong inability to learn at a high level in the countries where it is prevalent.

When natural disasters hit, developing countries which do not possess resources nor sustainable agricultural systems suffer more than developed countries, such as the United States. Shah said the Horn of Africa suffered greatly in 2011, experiencing a famine.

“A famine is not a condition of food availability, but actually a statistical determination of how many children under the age of five who starve to death per day,” Shah said.

Even though the Midwest has experienced what experts have called the worst drought in a century, Shah said developed countries have modern agricultural systems which resist the negative effects and help cushion the risks borne by communities suffering from severe droughts.

The issue of food insecurity cannot be solved with money alone. The solutions brew in colleges and universities across the country. Shah encouraged student involvement. ISU students have the potential to influence the future of extreme poverty and malnutrition in developing countries, Shah said.

“This is not just a story anymore about donors in the private sector,” Shah said. “It’s about researchers and students all over this country getting more engaged.”

One way students can get engaged is volunteering in the Peace Corps. Hessler-Radelet acknowledged and celebrated the current 25 ISU Peace Corps volunteers. More than 900 ISU graduates have served in the Peace Corps since 1961, Hessler-Radelet said.

“We are very grateful and we encourage more and more to come,” Hessler-Radelet said.

Peace Corps is on the front lines of Feed the Future. Hessler-Radelet said Peace Corps takes the U.S. government’s commitment to food security to the grassroots level in developing countries through its volunteer programming.

“Working closely with USAID, Peace Corps Feed the Future volunteers ensure that innovative food security practices reach agricultural communities,” Hessler-Radelet said. “[These] communities are partners in implementing those practices and [ensuring] the practices are sustained over time.”

The presence and support the Peace Corps provides in partnered countries reflect positively on the United States. Hessler-Radelet recounted a story about a meeting nine months ago with President of Guinea Alpha Condé. Hessler-Radelet said Condé praised the Peace Corps for its volunteers and the help one specific volunteer provided when he was a young man. She ended the story, taking note how simply being in the country and providing support means more to the country’s people than money.

“By changing lives one village at a time, we are feeding the future,” Hessler-Radelet said.