CFAES Graduate Students Make Their Mark at Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security

June 27, 2016

Three graduate students in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) recently participated in the U.S. Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security, an annual 2-week long educational program for graduate students attending U.S. institutions who are interested in developing a holistic understanding of the challenges surrounding global food security.

Vivian Bernau, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science; Dustin Homan, a M.S. student in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership; and Susan Ndiaye, a M.S. student in the Department of Entomology were among 40 invited students (25 Americans and 15 international) from 21 other public universities selected from a competitive pool of applicants to attend the 2016 Borlaug Summer Institute, which is funded by the U.S. Agency on International Development (USAID).

The Institute, which was convened and delivered by Purdue University’s Center for Global Food Security from June 5-18, provided an introduction to global food security, offered students the chance to work in an interdisciplinary fashion to address real-world development challenges and interact with an array of faculty, practitioners, and policymakers with extensive experience in integrated approaches to global problem solving.

“Each student who attended brought different expertise and experiences to the conversations, allowing us to gain new perspectives on issues including poverty, malnutrition, gender roles, post-harvest loss, and climate change,” said Susan, who formerly interned at World Hunger Relief, Inc. and served in the Peace Corps as an Agricultural Extension Agent for three and a half years in Senegal. She added that as the world's population continues to grow, the Institute reminded her and her peers of the importance of coming together from a variety of disciplines to develop lasting solutions for a problem as large and complex as global food security.

Distinguished speakers at the Institute included Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, Director of Purdue’s Center for Global Food Security and 2009 World Food Prize Laureate; Margot Ellis, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Food Security; and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Head of the 2020 Vision Initiative and Chief of Staff at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“It was the discussions sparked by these lectures that I believe will prove most valuable to me going forward,” shared Vivian, who was also recently named a 2016 Borlaug Fellow through the Center for Food Security and will receive a $34,500 research grant to conduct international research for 18 months. “At the end of the institute, I felt I had learned just as much from my peers as I did from the guest speakers.”

Vivian’s interest in agriculture and food security was initially cultivated on her family's fruit and vegetable farm in Altoona, Iowa. As a 2008 World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan Intern at the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan, her focus expanded internationally, later leading her to serve as a visiting researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia working to develop species distribution maps of crop wild relatives. Through her ongoing dissertation research, “Exploring drought tolerance in chile peppers (Capsicum spp.) of southern Mexico”, Vivian continues to explore cultivated and wild crop diversity in Latin America. 

In addition to working on small group projects at the Institute, the participants also visited a number of sites off-campus including the Monsanto facility in Remington, IN, and AgReliant Genetics - the third largest corn seed company in the U.S., headquartered in Westfield, IN.

“BSI shared my perspective on the important role of including social scientists, like myself, on interdisciplinary teams,” said Dustin, who recently returned from Nicaragua where he was serving as a consultant with Partners of the Americas in an effort to increase youth engagement in 4-H programs. “Personally, BSI shifted my paradigm on how I will approach designing future food security initiatives.”
Dustin’s tentative thesis title is "4-H’s ‘Secret Sauce’ – Exploring the Application of Positive Youth Development (PYD) Theory with Adult Advisors in Ghana." He strongly believes that 4-H can adapt its recruitment and training processes to better achieve PYD outcomes internationally, and have positive impacts on improving food security. 
Since 2012, the Borlaug Summer Institute has been a positive platform for Ohio State graduate students seeking a greater understanding of the complexities surrounding global food security, as well has facilitating valuable linkages between students and potential research collaborators. 
Perhaps Dustin summarized the Institute’s charge best by stating “We will need geneticists to create new crop varieties, engineers to design technologies to reduce post harvest loss, economists to measure how policy influences behavior, nutritionists to analyze diet quality, and educators to involve youth to ultimately ensure a more food secure future.”
For more information on the Borlaug Summer Institute and other funding opportunities in global food security, please visit the Center for Global Food Security.