Nine undergraduate College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) students and three visiting Borlaug Fellows attended the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, last month, named for famed agronomist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and “Father of the Green Revolution,” Norman Borlaug. Convening an array of international leaders, farmers, agribusiness executives, non-governmental organizations, and development experts in what’s called by some "the premier conference in the world on global agriculture," they honored the entrepreneurial spirit of farmers, and the ability of agriculture to provide health, wealth, and stability at the personal level and at the international level. The year’s theme, "The Road out of Poverty," focused on treating agriculture as a business.
“Agriculture should be seen as a business field,” said sophomore CASNR student Joviale Uwase, of Rwanda, who attended this year’s proceedings. “It is time for us, the youth, to help those (youth) who still have a bad image of agriculture to change it and see the side they are missing. That’s how we’ll help our nation to grow.”
Nine CASNR students attended, including freshmen Fathia Akamazina, Ruth Fiona Bayimenye, Victor Nsengiyumva Mpore and sophomores Clement Niyorira, Tonny Ruhinda, Joviale Uwase, Ange Agasaro, Zilfa Irakoze and Thierry Bienvenu, all of Rwanda. Also in attendance were three visiting Borlaug Fellows, including Idriss Serme of Burkina Faso, his mentor, Dr. Charles Wortmann; Samira Al-Hanafi of Morocco, her mentor Dr. Stephen Baenziger; and Jane Wamaitha of Kenya, and her mentor, Dr. Hernan Garcia-Ruiz.
“What really inspired me (about the conference) is the impact a person’s research can have on the farmer’s field. Dr. Borlaug, the man who saved millions of lives, is no longer with us, but his achievements, vision and dedication will continue to inspire generations to come,” said Al-Hanafi. “Now, I believe that it’s our responsibility, we the next generation, to make this world a better place and find ways to end hunger and actively engage for a sustainable food supply.”
In addition to other valuable networking and exposure, the students were afforded a special opportunity to meet and speak with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, current president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and former Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources for Rwanda.
“Whether it is networking with a person they admire or a person who will potentially become a mentor, these conferences are a good way to meet people who challenge us to become better in the fields we are interested in,” said Nsengigyumva Mpore. “And with college students’ hectic schedules, they might not have enough time to research on the areas that they are interested in. Conferences like these then become like shopping malls for the mind.”
Some of the topics included conservation, trade and agricultural productivity in Latin America; the role of dairy in encouraging global economic development; biotech research and knowledge transfer in specialty crops; and securing Africa's farming future by fostering young African farmers.
As part of the symposium, Dr. Akiwumi Ayodeji Adesina was recognized as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, an honor often called “the Nobel Prize of agriculture.” Dr. Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, has been at the forefront of galvanizing political will to transform African agriculture through his roles over the past two decades with the Rockefeller Foundation, at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and as Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria. Dr. Adesina’s speech focused on the potential of youth to change Africa’s future (see full text here).
“Most news coming out of the African continent emphasizes wars, poverty, etc. Those things exist but it’s not all that exists. There are great opportunities for advancement on the continent—Dr. Adesina not only gave (the students) fresh perspective, but pointed to concrete steps taken to ensure there is a future for young people in agriculture in Africa,” said Peggy Wantwadi, program coordinator for the IANR Office of Global Engagement. “It was also encouraging to see the scholars understand that dignity is an important component in lifting people out of hunger and to believe that there is hope for African youth in agriculture in partnership with the rest of the world.”