USAID administrator: Progress against world hunger but still 'a lot of work to do'

By Keith Robinson
October 22, 2015

The U.S. government and its partners such as universities working to alleviate world hunger are making strides while understanding there is still a long way to go, the acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development said Wednesday (Oct. 21) at Purdue University.

“We are winning,” Al Lenhardt, who also is a former ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania, said in the closing panel discussion of a two-day meeting of the Board for International Food and Food and Agricultural Development. The discussion in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall was moderated by Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

As examples of success, Lenhardt said millions more children around the world are now getting nutritious food than previously, and smallholder farmers in many developing countries now have the opportunity to sell their crops as a livelihood in addition to growing food for themselves.

“On the other side of the coin,” he said, “we still have a lot of work to do.” He noted that about a billion people around the world live in extreme poverty.

But he preferred to look at the situation as an optimist: “I’m of the camp that says the glass is half full.”

The presidentially appointed BIFAD brought their work to Purdue on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of their collaboration with universities. The board was created in 1975 as part of a federal law that called for engaging U.S. universities in partnership with the government in providing technical assistance to poor nations.

USAID has several ongoing partnerships with the university. For example, Purdue in 2014 started the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling, funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. The lab’s aim is to reduce hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa from food waste.

BIFAD advises USAID on agriculture and higher education issues involving food insecurity in developing countries. Gebisa Ejeta, a Purdue distinguished professor of agronomy and 2009 World Food Prize laureate, has been on the board since 2010, when he was appointed by President Barack Obama.

The two-day meeting included discussions with experts in the science and policy of food production and food security from Purdue and elsewhere around the country. Numerous Purdue faculty members spoke on topics that included the need for agriculture to adapt to climate change to increase yields and the College of Agriculture’s plant sciences initiative that is part ofPurdue Moves. Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample, Dean of Agriculture, moderated a panel on the topic of the roles of state, industry and university partnerships in feeding a rapidly growing world population.

Panelists in the closing session included Brady Deaton, chair of BIFAD and chancellor emeritus of the University of Missouri; Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and formerly USAID administrator and president of Michigan State University; and James Morris, former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme and now president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment.

Deaton heralded the agricultural research conducted at universities. “The scientific advances are very impressive,” he said. And he said he sees “vibrant, idealistic students” who want to do good for the world.

McPherson said a challenge will be for agriculture to produce enough food to feed a world population that is expected to increase from 7 billion people today to more than 9 billion by 2050. He indicated that research at universities such as Purdue will need to lead to even more innovation to sustain that production.

“Creating these technologies is critical,” he said.

Morris said governments and the private sector that provide aid after disasters such as a tsunami must not forget the continual need for assistance to the hungry.

“Hungry people are off the beaten path,” he said. “It’s easier to fund a crisis than an ongoing problem.”

Morris noted a fact of that ongoing problem: Every five seconds a child somewhere in the world dies from hunger. Closer to home, he said 22 percent of children in Indiana are food-insecure at some time during the year.

Lenhardt said foreign assistance must not only be in the form of financial aid but also include passing on expertise so the country in need can develop its own solutions for long-term stability. That means putting resources where they are most likely to work.

“We want to make sure the entity will have success at the end of the day,” he said.

The full public agenda and other information about the meeting are available on the Purdue BIFAD website at https://ag.purdue.edu/bifad/.

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