World Food Prize Feeds Students Opportunities
Going to school in the city that hosts the annual World Food Prize festival ensures that students are fed a steady diet of distinguished guest speakers. 2016 provides the latest examples.
On Tuesday Central Campus hosted a reception in honor of Dr. Charity Kawira Mutegi of Kenya. In 2013 Dr. Mutegi received the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application from the WFP, endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation.
In 2005 Dr. Mutegi, now of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), spearheaded efforts to identify the cause of, and solution to, a deadly outbreak of aflatoxicosis in Kenya that killed more than 100 people who consumed contaminated grain. Her research led to innovations that have averted subsequent outbreaks.
In a presentation to students enrolled in Agricultural Business and Biotechnology classes at Central Dr. Mutegi focused on the importance of personal visions.
“I am not going to talk to you about the technical aspects of my research,” she said. “I want to stress to you that you are nearing a critical point in your lives. It is vital that you develop a vision for your future.”
Dr. Mutegi compared and contrasted the conditions in which she was raised with those enjoyed by the students here. By age eight she was sent away to a school 180 kilometers from home. Her parents were determined that she be educated, unusual in a culture where girls were typically promised in marriage by age 12 and education was emphasized primarily for boys.
“But if you have a clear vision it doesn’t matter where you begin,” she said. “Also, I want you to realize how very, very lucky you are. Some of the facilities here surpass what university students have in Kenya.”
Then this morning Dr. Edward Mabaya of Zimbabwe, Associate Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, visited the STEM Academy at Hoover while in town to attend the Borlaug Dialogue at the WFP in his capacity as a New Voices Aspen Institute Fellow.
Dr. Mabaya toured STEM classrooms before delivering a presentation in the auditorium to academy students. He used the occasion to rehearse a TEDx talk he’ll be delivering in Washington in a couple of weeks.
He spoke convincingly about kernels of corn as technological instruments; robots that can be programmed to serve humanity. He showed pictures of the two-acre farm where he was raised in Zimbabwe and shared a poignant story about returning to his village after earning his PhD at Cornell University. It was Christmastime and he sat with his brothers drinking warm beer at the local gathering spot. A ragged man he did not recognize at first reintroduced himself to Dr. Mabaya as Thomas, his boyhood friend. The practice of agriculture had not provided the path out of rural poverty for Thomas that the study of it had for Dr. Mabaya.
“Small-scale farming is not just about food,” he said. “It is about dignity. The advances in hybrid seed have not found their way yet to Thomas but perhaps they will to his daughter Naomi.”
During the Q&A that followed his presentation a Hoover student from Malawi raised his hand. Mozambique separates Malawi and Zimbabwe on the African continent but they are close enough to each other that the visiting scientist from the Ivy League and the high school student from Des Moines shared a brief exchange of smiles and a dialect known only to them among the crowd in the auditorium. It was a nutshell moment that illustrated how near the center of a shrinking world this school district has grown.
Did the students realize that it will be necessary to grow as much food in the next 50 years as was required in the previous 10,000?
They do now.