Students at the Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security at Purdue University study important issues, including how energy, agriculture and ecology all play a role in providing enough food to feed the world.
Students at the Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security at Purdue University study important issues, including how energy, agriculture and ecology all play a role in providing enough food to feed the world.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Graduate students from across the country gathered at Purdue University for the two-week Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security.

Thirty-five students, including five from Purdue, took part in the institute to learn about the challenges facing food security.

About a third of the participants were international students studying at universities in the U.S. Those students represented a variety of countries, including Cameroon, Ethiopia and Ghana.

“The summer institute is an intensive seminar that focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to resolving global problems in food security,” said Gary Burniske, managing director of the Center for Global Food Security at Purdue. “The approach that we’re using is that we have identified emerging and existing challenges to food security.”

He said that existing challenges include population increase, health and nutrition, post-harvest management and other areas that have been acknowledged in the past.

Emerging challenges, on the other hand, include climate change, water quality and policies. According to Burniske, these issues have been increasing over the past 10 years.

In order to gain understanding about the depth of food security problems, students are taught by a variety of teachers and experts.

“What we do is we have faculty from Purdue, along with scientists and experts from other universities and research organizations, who are top experts in these different fields, come give a presentation to the students on the latest status in technological developments,” Burniske explained.

Through classroom lectures, field trips, group projects and other learning tools, students gain deeper insight of food security. The main group project was the finale of the summer institute.

“The program is sponsored by the Agency for International Development, and they have a program known as Feed the Future, which has identified the most food-insecure countries in the world,” Burniske said. “We selected five of those countries for the students to develop a proposal and study what they feel are the greatest challenges for security in those countries.”

Students presented their proposal to a panel of experts on the last day of the program. After the panel interviewed the groups, a vote determined the winners.

Jasbir Sangha, a doctoral student studying nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland, said she learned several important lessons during her time at Purdue.

“Before, my understanding of food security was a very narrow one,” she conceded. “It was based on whether a person can access food, based on access, availability and utilization.

“What this program has really taught me is about production, agriculture production. We have learned that in order to ensure food security, the agriculture production has to be sustainable.

“We have touched upon a lot of challenges, including land use, climate change, nutrition, ecological, agriculture and energy use. We want to keep in mind sustainability.”

Students such as Sangha were selected to be in the institute by a committee at Purdue’s Center for Global Food Security. Out of 107 applications, only 35 were chosen.

“The Borlaug program that funds the summer institute offers a fellowship, which provides financial support to graduate students to carry out research,” Burniske said. “Two students here have received a fellowship. We hope many students apply for the fellowship.”

The summer institute itself has received funding for five years. Burniske said there is a possibility for an additional five years, as well.

Next year’s institute is scheduled to be held during the first two weeks of June. For more information, visit www.purdue.edu/discoverypark/food/borlaugfellows.