As we celebrated Cinco de Mayo this week, it is fitting to recall that the pioneering early work of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug took place in remote areas of rural Mexico. Working alongside Mexican smallholder farmers, his research led to the Green Revolution and the greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in human history.
Borlaug grew up on a farm at Cresco in northeast Iowa. Among Dr. Borlaug's most passionate goals was to inspire the next generation of youth to pursue careers fighting hunger through agriculture. The World Food Prize implements a number of education programs to realize his dream. In this article, we highlight five young people who represent these World Food Prize education programs.
Kody Olson: Following in Norm's footsteps through a Borlaug-Ruan high school internship at CIMMYT
"These opportunities really pushed me in the right direction. I am passionate about global food security and how different cultures can work together on some of the most critical challenges of our time and I probably wouldn't be studying it without my experiences at the World Food Prize." – Kody Olson
Kody Olson, of Keswick, Iowa was selected as an exemplary high school student to spend eight weeks as a Borlaug-Ruan International intern at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan, Mexico. From June to August, 2014, he worked side by side in the field and in the lab with leading scientists, collecting and interpreting data studying the effects of conservation tillage on maize and wheat field plots.
His research was a part of The Global Conservation Agricultural Program, directed by Dr. Bram Govaerts, who received the 2014 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application for his work developing cutting-edge, sustainable programs that are transforming subsistence agriculture and unsustainable farming systems in Mexico and other regions of the world into productive and sustainable production operations.
Kody's journey began when he was selected as a Borlaug scholar for the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University, earned a scholarship to the College of Ag and Life Sciences and a chance to be a delegate to the Global Youth Institute during the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. He is now a freshman at Iowa State University double majoring in Global Resource Systems and Agriculture and Society, and minoring in Technical Sustainability where he serves on the Iowa State Freshman Council and Presidents Leadership Circle.
The prestigious Borlaug-Ruan international internship provides high school students an all-expenses-paid, eight-week hands-on experience, working with world-renowned scientists and policymakers at leading research centers around the globe.
In 2014, Kody Olson was one of 23 students from across the U.S. to take part in this unique program, which inspires high school age students to pursue education and careers in STEM, agricultural sciences and confronting hunger. Since its inception in 1998, 250 high school students from across the United States have taken part. Two thirds of participants in the Borlaug-Ruan Internship program are young women.
This summer, another 23 students will embark on life-changing Borlaug-Ruan internships in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Mahmud Johnson: 40 Chances Fellows award moves communities from poverty to peace
"I remain eternally grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the World Food Prize Foundation, and the Africa Governance Initiative for creating such a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs such as myself to work closely with local communities to design sustainable approaches to reduce poverty and promote peace." - Mahmud Johnson
Last October, Mahmud Johnson was among four young social entrepreneurs to receive a prestigious 40 Chances Fellows award at the 2014 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue. The award enabled Mahmud to double the size of his business, Kernels for Peace, creating a new market for palm kernel oil in Liberia.
In the six months since Mahmud received his 40 Chances award, Kernels for Peace has grown to purchase palm kernels from 50 smallholder farmers in seven communities, raising their incomes by an average of 79%. Kernels for Peace has also created 76 new jobs collecting and processing palm kernels and marketing the products to local soap manufactures, pig and poultry farmers.
The 40 Chances Fellows program, a partnership between the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Africa Governance Initiative and the World Food Prize Foundation, supports four young entrepreneurs under the age of 40 to launch innovative social enterprise projects addressing hunger and poverty in Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
Selected from a pool of 267 applicants by blue-ribbon panels comprised of leaders in government, academia and agricultural development, the four 40 Chances Fellows each received $150,000 to further their enterprises.
Maria Belding: Alum of World Food Prize / USDA Wallace-Carver Fellows program receives national honors for confronting hunger through social enterprise
"My business partner Grant Nelson is also an Iowan, a Dowling '08 grad and older brother to Joseph Nelson, my fellow 2013 World Food Prize Wallace-Carver Fellow. Kody Olson, a 2014 World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan intern, is on our staff. We're chock-full of World Food Prize connections!" - Maria Belding
While just in her first year of college at American University, World Food Prize alum Maria Belding has received multiple national awards, including the prestigious 2015 Clinton Hunger Leadership Award and the top prize for nonprofit social venture at the 2015 George Washington University Business Plan Competition.
Maria credits the World Food Prize education programs for providing her with inspiration, mentorship and introductions to a diverse group of talented young people who share her enthusiasm and partnered with her to create the award-winning MEANS Database, an online system enabling food pantries to communicate with each other and their donors to prevent waste.
A collaboration between the World Food Prize Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture, the prestigious USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowship offers exceptional high school and college students the opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned scientists and policymakers through paid internships at leading USDA research centers and offices across the United States.
Since its inception in 2011, 80 students have taken their education and careers to the next level as World Food Prize / USDA Wallace-Carver Fellows.
Melissa Garcia-Rodriguez: World Food Prize Youth Institutes in 12 states empower students to make a difference
"My mom and dad have worked very hard to support me and I want to do my best to earn scholarships to help pay for college. The World Food Prize inspired me to take on leadership roles and tell people about how they can make a difference." – Melissa Garcia-Rodriguez
As a young urban student, Melissa Garcia-Rodriguez of Des Moines, Iowa admits that she did not know a lot about agriculture prior to taking one of the first Urban Agricultural Education classes to be offered at Central Campus High School.
She took the class because of her love of animals and wanted to learn more about the industry. There, she met educator Jacob Hunter, now the World Food Prize Iowa Education Programs Director, who saw a promising future for Melissa and encouraged her to write a research paper and participate in the World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University. At the institute, she quickly learned the global reach of agriculture. "Before the Iowa Youth Institute, I didn't realize how big agriculture was or that there were jobs in the industry for me," said Melissa.
Since participating in the youth institute Melissa wants to focus on animal science and agricultural education in college to empower others to follow in her footsteps. The scholarship she earned from Iowa State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will help her pay for college. As a first generation American, she is working hard for a bright future. Melissa currently serves as President of the Des Moines FFA and served as the first Latina elected to an office above the chapter level in the Iowa FFA Association.
World Food Prize State Youth Institutes are public-private partnerships with Land Grant Universities and prominent agribusiness and educational organizations in 12 states. Over 500 high school students participate in State Youth Institutes each year.
These programs are rapidly growing across the country and are recognized as a national model for students to fight hunger, explore global food security challenges and various academic and career opportunities in agricultural and STEM fields.
Sweta Sudhir: Pursuing her passion through the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute "Through my experience with the World Food Prize I became deeply vested in improving the situation farmers are currently facing across the globe. I believe I can make a significant contribution and look forward to my experience as a Borlaug-Ruan International intern in Turkey." –Sweta Sudhir
Sweta Sudhir, a junior at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, loves science, has completed many advanced placement courses and gained valuable lab experience and college credit at the University of Iowa, where she assisted in research at the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department. She is globally-minded, committed to improving lives and feels responsible to help lead efforts among her generation to reduce global hunger and poverty.
Sweta was inspired to follow in the legacy of Dr. Borlaug through her participation in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. Interacting with like-minded peers and renowned experts from around the world sharpened her commitment to fighting hunger through agriculture.
This summer, Sweta will further build on her experiences through a Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, studying wheat pathology with top researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Ankara, Turkey.
The Global Youth Institute is an annual three-day event, bringing almost 200 exceptional high school students from across the United States and around the world to Des Moines in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.
At the Global Youth Institute, student delegates present and discuss their findings with international experts and their peers, connect with other students from around the world, tour cutting-edge industrial and research facilities, and take part in symposium discussions with global leaders in science, industry and policy.