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DAA: Ronald P. Cantrell

Ronald P. Cantrell

Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2000

Gardening and golf might be among the interests Ronald P. Cantrell would pursue if the call to advocate for the world’s hungry didn’t ring quite so loudly. Instead, his passion as director general of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines permeates every aspect of his life and occupies virtually all of his time. The roots of that commitment extend to his years at Purdue University and the time he spent in West Africa heading a farming systems team. There he first heard hunger’s cry. And he’s since listened to it in several Asian countries. “It’s a real crisis,” Cantrell says, citing 1.2 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day, those who spend nearly all their income on food, and the 800 million people without sufficient quality or quantity of food. Those numbers fuel his advocacy. “Not having enough food or having to spend 80 percent to 90 percent of your income on food is a very solvable problem. It’s not an easy problem, but it’s solvable. And it needs the attention and support of people throughout the world,” Cantrell says. He believes the answer lies in science and agriculture working together to produce more food and to make it more available and affordable-the institute’s research mission. Looking at projected population growth, Cantrell notes, “In the next 30 years we’re probably going to have to produce 30 percent to 50 percent more rice with less land and less water.” That alone poses quite a hurdle. “This is coming at a time when people are not as aware of the poverty of the world, so we are not as able to raise funds as we were years ago.” That further motivates Cantrell. “It’s a tremendous challenge, but these people need the best science has to offer.”