ACES student’s SIL experience ignites passion to fight world hunger

My whole life I have lived in a suburban environment. When my family needed food, there was always a grocery nearby. While I knew that food insecurity was a world crisis, it was not an issue that I had experienced firsthand. I went on to pursue a degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was fortunate enough to work with the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) and Erica Leles on their data team. With the help of SIL, I have had the opportunity gain a better understanding of and become more involved with the issue of food insecurity through research and world hunger conferences.

As part of my work at SIL, I conducted independent research with Dr. Peter Goldsmith on the use of intercropping on small scale farms. Intercropping entails planting two or more crops in close proximity in order to create a symbiosis between the crops. For example, in maize soybean intercropping, studies found that yield significantly increased when a ration of either one row of soybeans to one row of maize or two rows of soybeans to two rows of maize were intercropped. This occurred due to a decrease in competition for nutrients; soybeans will fixate nitrogen from the atmosphere, which saves the nitrogen in the soil for the maize crops. The combination of maize and soybean also provide key nutrients that can help fight malnutrition as well as hunger: soybeans provide essential vitamins, minerals, and protein and can serve as a food source for both livestock and humans, while maize is comprised of mostly carbohydrates and provides essential energy. The drawback to intercropping is that it necessitates specialized planting patterns and planting/harvest times, which makes it difficult to use industrial planting/harvesting methods, so areas where intercropping can be used are limited.

Through the Global Food Security Internship, I was also able to participate in many conferences where I learned how hunger affects different areas of the world and how citizens are adapting to increased food security in their local communities. Out of the conferences that I attended, the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit was my favorite. Through the event I got to interact with other students and professor in agricultural fields and learn about their research. I particularly enjoyed listening to a presentation on bringing traditional Turkish foods and fermented beverages to the world market in order to increase food security in Turkey and share their culture.

As I progress to graduate school, I will be transitioning into the field of architecture, but I will carry my experiences in food security with me. It is my goal to include sustainability and agriculture into my designs, so that I can continue participating in the fight against world hunger.

Mackenzie Jarvis - SIL InternErica Leles - SIL Pan-African Trials Data ManagerPeter Goldsmith - SIL Director


Makenzie Jarvis, student in agricultural and biological engineering, worked with the Soybean Innovation Lab, advised by Michelle da Fonseca Santos.

Through the Global Food Security Interns program, ACES International is supporting talented and motivated undergraduate students to work with ACES faculty or staff on food-security-related projects in low and middle-income countries. In early 2021, six undergrads received funding as global food security interns.