2018 Alliance for Science Fellows urged to tackle global food crisis 

By Etta Michael Bisong

September 10, 2018

Dr. Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University, has spurred the 2018 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows to find ways of resolving the pressing world problems of food security and extreme poverty.

During a recent reception welcoming the 29 Fellows, who represent nine different countries, to the Cornell community, Boor emphasized that CALS was established to help make the world more habitable and sustainable — a goal that has become more important now that the global population is projected to surpass over nine billion people by 2050.

“Our mission here in CALS is to leave the world a better place than we found it,” she said. “And we pour our hearts into trying to achieve this.”

To that end, CALS, which includes the Alliance for Science, is working closely with communities across the State of New York and around the world to conduct life-changing research, teaching, outreach and extension services to improve agriculture, food security, health and general well-being.

The Dean added that researchers in her College are also collaborating across disciplines and multiple areas to solve some of the complicated and complex problems affecting the entire global community. Their research includes efforts to reduce the consequences of climate change, enable food security, provide sustainable energy options and understand how to harness new tools of social media to improve science communication.

Looking into the future and predicting the next decade or two, Boor asserted that food security and development related issues are going to increasingly dominate and shape global communities and business leaders. Agricultural transformation must be taken seriously if the global dialogue about ending extreme hunger and poverty is to be achieved, she said.

Okon Unung, a plant breeding specialist and a 2018 Fellow representing Nigeria, said he is passionate about improving the quality of lives globally by contributing significantly to making sure that everyone has equal access at all times to food that is nutritious, safe and sufficient to meet their dietary needs.

“As a plant breeder, one of the hallmarks of agriculture is making the right crop varieties that are commensurate with the emerging agricultural dynamics available to farmers because the agricultural production system is challenged with numerous factors, such as pests and diseases, the incidences of climate change reflected in drought conditions and flooding, as well as other biotic and abiotic stresses,” Unung said during a sideline at the reception.

The target and responsibility of every plant specialist, according to Unung, is to see how to develop appropriate crop varieties that can suit and meet the emerging dynamics of agricultural production systems.

Unung disclosed that he was motivated to join the Global Leadership Fellows Program to boost his ability as a scientist to demystify the complexities of biotechnology and make it understandable to farmers so that they can access the innovations and novel research outcomes of agricultural biotechnology to improve their productivity.

“This Fellowship will put me on a better pedestal for effective extension service delivery considering that I have worked with farmers through extension programs for many years,” he said. “It will also help me to strategically communicate scientific innovations to farmers and intended beneficiaries through effective extension programming and science communication.”

The Cornell Alliance for Science seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means to ensure global access to life-improving agricultural innovations that can shrink farming’s footprint, deliver food security, reduce the drudgery of field work that often falls on women and children, provide rural families with sufficient income to educate their children, and inspire young people to pursue a career in agriculture and science.

The GFLP welcomed its first cohort in 2015. With 25 graduated Fellows in 2015 and 28 in 2016, the GFLP now represents a total of 20 countries across South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the United States.

The Fellows, who are currently undergoing training in strategic planning, grassroots organizing, the science of crop biotechnology and effective communications, are empowered upon completing the program to return to their respective countries and become champions of “evidence-based” policies around global sustainability and agricultural affairs.

Etta Michael Bisong is a journalist and 2018 Global Leadership Fellow representing Nigeria.