Al Lenhardt (center), acting administrator of the United States Agency  for International Development, makes a point during a panel discussion, hosted by Purdue President Mitch Daniels (left), about efforts to alleviate world hunger. The event Wednesday (Oct. 21) in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall was the closing session in a two-day meeting of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development held at Purdue. Other panelists were Peter McPherson (second from left), president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and formerly USAID administrator and president of Michigan State University; Brady Deaton (second from right), chair of BIFAD and chancellor emeritus of the University of Missouri; and James Morris, former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme and now president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment. Photo by John Underwood

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

By Keith Robinson | Published Thursday, October 22, 2015
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Al Lenhardt, acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, meets with plant breeding and genetics graduate student Megan Fenton of Penn Yan, N.Y., during a poster display session that was part of the BIFAD meeting. Her research involves how genes control resistance to the Striga weed in sorghum. She works under the tutelage of Gebisa Ejeta, the distinguished professor of agronomy who earned the 2009 World Food Prize for his work in developing sorghum resistant to the weed. Photo by Mark Varner/APLU.

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.

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Murdock honored for PICS
Larry Murdock, distinguished professor of entomology, received an award during the BIFAD meeting for creating the Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags. The hermetically sealed bags enable farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to store their crops safely for long periods and, in so doing, provide more food throughout the year. Read the full story. Photo by Mark Simons

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 of Purdue 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/.