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Voices of ACES Blog

A Transformative Journey: The Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Dialogue

Mary Arends-Kuenning, Lauren Karplus, and Brighid Zelko at the World Food Prize.
Mary Arends-Kuenning, Lauren Karplus, and Brighid Zelko at the Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Dialogue.

Prelude: The Opportunity

Last month, I was privileged to attend the Norman E. Borlaug Food Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa. This conference, held at a pivotal point in my educational journey, had a profound impact on my thoughts about my future career and goals.

The Attendees: A Melting Pot of Perspectives

The dialogue was attended by a diverse array of individuals, from the Presidents and Vice Presidents of various countries to fellow college students like myself. The vast range of backgrounds and perspectives diversified the discussions, spanning from political dialogues about agricultural policies to discussing farming techniques in different countries and how they need to evolve to the space they are in. The Secretary of Agriculture for the United States talked passionately about the diversity in the room and the collaboration that needed to happen in order for a more successful future of agriculture to be reached.

Day 1: A Whirlwind of Inspiration

The first day was a whirlwind of events. It felt like I was being thrown in the deep end of perspectives and ideas. I loved every moment of absorbing what was around me. The conference was both inspiring and empowering, opening my eyes to the multitude of opportunities in the field of agriculture. I was particularly moved by the story of Telangana, the newest state in India, and how they transformed their agricultural production in just a decade, taking it from a mildly profitable market to an extremely successful increase in yields and profit. In addition, I heard this year’s World Food Prize Laureate Heidi Kuhn speak. I found her mission of a farmer-focused development model that revitalizes war-torn farmland and gives back towns and villages their livelihoods very inspiring and encouraging.

Day 2: The Power of Collaboration

The second day began with a fireside chat about the banana disease TR4, hosted by Ciquita, Del Monte, and Bayer. This discussion underscored the importance of collaboration within the field of agriculture. The focus was not on outcompeting each other, but on working together towards the common goal of ensuring banana trees do not go extinct while paving the way for a future of continued collaboration.

Day 3: A Call to Action

The third day was captivating as we heard from many world leaders, including the President of Kosovo, the President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, and the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Their speeches were heartwarming, emphasizing the need for collaboration and goal orientation to meet the 2050 goal of producing enough food for the world’s growing population.

Conclusion: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

Overall, attending the World Food Prize was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was incredibly fulfilling to interact with people from over 65 different countries and hear their stories of prosperity and hard work. Regardless of their backgrounds, everyone in that room shared the same goal: to feed the world and ensure no one goes hungry. It’s not every day you find yourself in a room full of such a diverse group of people, from presidents of countries to college students, all fighting for the same initiative.

Brighid Zelko, a senior in crop sciences, is a 2023 ACES Global Food Security Intern who is supervised by Stephen Long and is studying the phenotypic factors of tropical sorghums for increased efficiency.