Building Functional Institutions for Global Development

Ejeta projects Africa’s potential at ACES Distinguished International Lecture

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta was the featured speaker at the Spring 2015 College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Distinguished International Lecture. Ejeta is known worldwide as a Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics and International Agriculture, the Executive Director of the Center for Global Food Security at Purdue University, and The 2009 World Food Prize Laureate.

Dr. Ejeta spoke on “Building Functional Institutions for Global Development” on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at the Knight Auditorium in the Spurlock Museum. A reception followed the lecture.

University of Illinois President Robert Easter introduced Dr. Ejeta as a friend for whom he has enormous respect. “It is a rare privilege to be able to introduce someone I’ve known for a while…a person who has absolute commitment to the today’s theme of food security for the planet, and an individual who has an incredible vision to realize what needs to be done…he is a force,” Easter said.

A summary of Dr. Ejeta's lecture:

Ejeta first listed the challenges we face, including fragile ecosystems, a changing climate, an emerging water crisis, and a growing demand for energy. He also noted that one third of the world’s food is wasted each year.

On the positive side, he noted that land resources remain. At least 12-15 percent more land is available without resorting to deforestation, he said, and noted we have two alternatives, to sharpen science, technology, and innovation, or to check our consumption and value of natural resources.

Ejeta said, “We are in this together. The things we do in one part of the world affect the other side of the planet.”  To solve the problems, “We need to have faith in science and technology,” he said.

Handouts are not likely to solve the problem, he noted. “Nations need to build their own capacities and higher institutions of education have lots to contribute,” he said.

Ejeta led up to two main questions:  1) Can Africa feed itself? and 2) Can Africa feed the world?

The first question, he said, reflects the poor state of agriculture and development, including that the continent has 60% of the population in subsistence farming. The second question, he said, is a positive perspective about Africa.

“I have grown more confident about the continent in the last 10 years,” he said.

Ejeta believes Africa is waiting to unleash its full potential. Democracy and conflict resolution are improving, he noted, and that although terrorism and corruption curtail its advancement, some of the fastest growing economies are in Africa. There has been a boom in infrastructure and expansion of education and telecommunication, he noted.

“I see a palpable commitment and resolve in Africa,” he said.

He noted that 50 percent of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa, and 65 percent of the continent’s labor force is employed in agriculture.

He noted necessary catalysts for charge as: incentives for people, programs, and institutions; institutions that support markets, finances, and risk management; and infrastructures that ease and facilitate commerce, transport, and information. He added that policies are needed to make technology-induced changes sustainable, for example, easing local restrictions to trade and encouraging the private sector to make a greater contribution.

Dr. Ejeta ended by emphasizing that in the U.S., we need to sustain purpose-driven science through agriculture, discover a new mechanism for 21st Century public-private partnerships, support public institutions as they engage in research and development, and renew our interest in human capacity building.

African nations and developing countries should, he said, believe in science-based development, build local capacity, introduce functional private-public models, encourage global partnerships, and be thoughtful about creating the right environment for their own people.  


News Writer: Leslie Myrick,

For more information on Dr. Ejeta, visit:

For more information on the Center for Global Food Security, visit:

For more information about the ACES Distinquished International Lecture Series, visit:

Dr. Ejeta has been a member of the faculty of Purdue University since 1984. His career has been devoted to education, research, and international development. He has made contributions in human and institutional capacity building, in technology development and transfer, as well as in policy advocacy for science, technology, and innovations that change livelihoods. Professor Ejeta has served at the highest level of science programs and policy advisories of several international development agencies. He currently serves on the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), the boards of the Chicago Council for Global Affairs Global Agricultural Development Initiative (GADI), and the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR). Professor Ejeta has also served the United States Government in several capacities, including as Special Advisor to the USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, and as Science Envoy of the U.S. State Department, before being appointed by President Obama as member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) in 2010. The 2009 World Food Prize Laureate and a recipient of a National Medal of Honor from the President of Ethiopia, Ejeta is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, and Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America.

Global Food Security in the Face of Changing Climate

ACES launches international food security initiative with lecture by Gerald Nelson

On September 8, 2014, the International Food Security Initiative (IFSI), a new campus-wide program to address global food insecurity, presented its inaugural lecture by Dr. Gerald Nelson, “Global Food Security in the Face of Changing Climate.”

Nelson is a professor emeritus of the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and the principal author of the report Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in May 2014.

“The food security challenges we face are unprecedented,” opened Nelson, who noted that between 2000-2050, the world’s population will increase by 50 percent. “Globally, almost all of this growth is in developing countries. These areas often face a double burden of malnutrition – obesity and hunger – side by side, and resource scarcity including water, soil, and clean air will become more serious. To add to these challenges, climate change is what the military would refer to as a ‘threat multiplier,’ resulting in reduced productivity of existing crops in many areas.”

Nelson first educated the audience, who overflowed the Monsanto Room in the College of ACES library, on the definitions and data related to climate change.

He admitted that different climate models predict very different  potential outcomes. “For example, we know that there will likely be more rain falling over the whole planet and it will be distributed very differently, but the models differ as to where that rain will fall,” Nelson said. These differences lead to wide variation in projections for food and agriculture.

The models agree, he noted, in that they all predict dire outcomes.

Climate change, Nelson said, is already affecting agriculture. He gave examples of rice production in China shifting to the north, coffee production shifting up the mountains, and durum wheat (used in pasta) showing sensitivity to higher temperatures. 

The future impacts of climate change on mass produced crops such and corn and wheat, he said, are especially bleak after 2050, which he illustrated through graphs devised from various climate models.

“At this point, agricultural prices will already be rising because of increases in GDP and population, and climate change will cause even greater price increases,” Nelson warned. Rising food prices will then threaten to exacerbate food insecurity. 

After painting a bleak picture for the future of our planet, especially in lower-income developing countries where he said “mass starvation” is an extremely plausible outcome, Nelson provided three main messages for today’s low income countries: 1) Today, sustainable development is more important that adapting to climate change; 2) Today, they should be investing in capacities to adapt, keeping international trade free from barriers, and improving domestic policies that support agriculture; 3) Collect better data today and in the future on the existing situation and practices, for example, weather, land cover, water, prices.

Nelson closed by encouraging the crowd to think beyond corn and soybeans. “Can we redirect some of our research dollars and activities to some of the crops and particulars that haven’t seen as much funding? Economists believe in the S curve, where a dollar spent early on in research activities provides a larger return, and over time, the returns of additional dollars spent decline. So, after we have been spending 30 years on corn, maybe we are on the top end of that curve and we should try to get more biophysical productivity from some other crops and out-of-the-box activities.”

Nelson’s lecture launched the new IFSI, which will focus the expertise and resources of the University of Illinois to address the global challenge of ensuring that all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

“The University of Illinois offers a unique combination of capacities to help the world address our global challenge of achieving food security,” said Alex Winter-Nelson, director of the Office of International Programs and the new initiative. “Our researchers are already doing much to address food insecurity. By coordinating their activities under one umbrella, IFSI intends to increase the University of Illinois’s impact and visibility as we work to identify technologies, institutions, and programs that can make food available and accessible for all. We were delighted to have Jerry here to present at the opening of the International Food Security Initiative. He is an impressive scholar and policy analyst and has been thinking about food security in multiple dimensions for decades.”

Water, Food and International Development

Insights from experience at the intersection of science and practice

The ACES Office of International Programs (OIP) welcomed one of the world’s foremost experts in water management and development, Dr. Roberto Lenton, as its distinguished international speaker on April 17, 2014.

Lenton, who spoke about his experiences at the intersection of science and practice for water, food, and international development, serves as the founding executive director of the Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska.

He began by reminding the roomful of attendees of some statistics:

“We live in a world where more than one billion people live in extreme poverty, defined by making less than $1.25 a day; and over one billion people lack access to something we take for granted, clean drinking water and basic sanitation. Over 870 million people don’t have enough to eat, and chronic malnutrition results in the stunted growth of 165 million children under five-years old.” 

He acknowledged that great strides have been made on these fronts and that the situations are dynamic.  

“The numbers of people coming out of poverty have been dramatic; we have made remarkable progress. However, it is important to remember that sometimes coming out of poverty just means these people are now living on just a little more than $1.25 a day.”
Lenton defined food security as “when everyone, everywhere, has access to enough safe and nutritious food for an active life” and discussed its three pillars: availability, access, and use.

“Food has to be there; people need to have access to it; and it has to be processed and cooked correctly in the household to meet appropriate nutritional levels,” he explained.

He emphasized the importance of talking about water security in the same conversation as food security because the world needs both. 

“In our desire to create food security, we don’t want to dry out the world and leave people without water security,” he warned.
Lenton defined water security as “the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks, such as floods.” 

Lenton said the “water for food challenge” in the context of population growth and poverty requires balancing food requirements with water availability for food production.

“And both sides of this equation are impacted by climate change,” he said.

To further explain the role of water in food security, Lenton noted that making food available consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. Also, clean water and basic sanitation are critical to ensure that food is safe at the household level and that people don’t lose calories from fetching water or diarrheal diseases. 

Lenton addressed the “Nexus” approach which promotes looking at issues of water, food, and energy together.
“I have no quarrel with this approach but there are also many other things to look at,” he noted.

He gave examples from experience to illustrate conflicts that can arise among different parties:  1) a road improvement project in Argentina where local farmers raised concerns about the road’s new elevation increasing their risk of flood and 2) an energy development project in South America where the farmers were worried about the project’s impact on their water availability. 

“These projects, and many like them, raise questions about risks, such as who bears them, and how you analyze them,” he said. 
Lenton highlighted the “big dualities” he has found in most every discussion that includes water, food, and development.

“There is always one obvious or visible aspect, the ‘principal aspect’ and another aspect that is less visible, the ‘shadow aspect.’  Which is the ‘principal’ and which is the ‘shadow’ usually depends on your disciplinary background. Most people are trained to look at one side and not the other. For example, engineers may see the supply side issue, but economists see the demand side issue. What we need is a more holistic approach. In most cases, we need to capture the whole. You must force yourself to capture the full dimension of the issue. There is a great need for integrated approaches, and people should think broadly but act specifically,” he urged.

Lenton reflected on the role of land grant universities.

“Universities such as this one build on huge strengths including a strong extension system that is outcome and impact driven and strong expertise in a wide range of disciplines,” he said.

In closing, he challenged the audience to develop long term relationships with issues and people, engage a wide range of disciplines, and allow for a two-way flow of faculty, students, information, outcomes, and impacts.