ACES International hosts Fifth Annual International Food Security Symposium

ACES International hosts Fifth Annual International Food Security Symposium
ACES International hosts Fifth Annual International Food Security Symposium

Food security practitioners from around the world gathered at the University of Illinois in early April for the Fifth Annual International Food Security Symposium sponsored and coordinated by the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

This year’s event was co-sponsored by AgReach with the theme of building institutional capacity for food security. While opening the symposium, Paul McNamara, associate professor in ACES and director of AgReach, noted “We are meeting here to share ideas and push each other forward towards our common goals.”

View the archived program and presentations here.

Dean Kimberlee Kidwell also welcomed the attendees, noting that documenting and sharing what we do is a way to “pay it forward.” She encouraged participants to “leave with something good to do” towards food security.

The diverse and meaningful program included three keynote presentations and four sessions over two days.

Towards a more politically informed approach to institutional change and capacity building for agricultural extension

Providing an extremely useful keynote lecture for those working in institutional capacity development (or students hoping to do so), Dr. Ed Laws of Overseas Development Institute (ODI) presented ways to meet recurring challenges, specifically how to “think and work politically” and use “adaptive management” for institutional change.  

Laws provided a series of tools and frameworks, including how to use “stakeholder mapping” to bring about policy reform. One key takeaway was to support inclusive local leadership through engaging with local individuals and bringing diverse stakeholders together. He also urged “working with the grain” by focusing on issues that already have local traction and to find ways to support the already powerful players.

To make a real difference, “you need to find a balance between principle and pragmatism,” he said.

Making India hunger free: The role of institutions and innovations

A second keynote was presented by Dr. Ashok Gulati from the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). Gulati formerly served as chairman to India’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.

Gulati opened by noting that India, projected to have the largest population in the world by 2024, will be self-reliant for producing food for the near future but its challenges towards food security will be nutrition and sanitation.

He provided a contextual history of how India overcame food shortages in the past with a sequence of “revolutions” from Green (wheat), White (rice), Red (poultry, meat, and egg), Blue (fish), and finally Gene (cotton) to introduce how the country must meet new challenges through institutions and innovations.

He noted that current “Indian agricultural policies have dual but conflicting aims that result in India taxing its farmers and heavily subsidizing its consumers.” What is needed, he said,   is appropriate incentive polices to promote investments, efficiency, and sustainability. ICRIER’s research shows that to meet its future challenges towards food security, India most needs massive investment in projects that provide safe drinking water, toilets, and education for women.

Food security through research, one scholar at a time

An ACES alumnus, Dr. Saweda Liverpool-Tasie, presented a keynote lecture on getting “multum in parvo” (much from a little) using the example of her Feed the Future (FTF) Nigeria Agricultural Policy Project that brings young Nigerian scholars and their advisors to Michigan State University, where she works as associate professor. 

Liverpool-Tasie noted that building capacity is a slow process with many steps and well-coordinated strategic interventions at multiple levels while keeping a long term perspective. “Strategic capacity building efforts with small numbers of dynamic scholars can achieve so much,” she noted from her own experience.

The 13 scholars who were part of this FTF project first took courses to improve their analytical proficiency. And specifically, “close and continuing mentoring has been crucial,” she said. This project has resulted in 31 publications in 3 years, and these 13 scholars also trained over 800 Nigerians on data collection and analysis.

Building Institutional Capacity for Food Security

Although the symposium brought to light how much work is left to do within this space, the attendees left with new connections, ideas, and tools to move forward to make a difference towards food security around the world.

Look for the sixth annual symposium next spring. ACES International Programs will release a call for themes and co-sponsor in the fall.

Previous years’ symposiums are documented here.