Dairy industry aims at nutrition, social aspects of UN sustainable goals

By Megan Tyminski

DES MOINES, Iowa – The dairy industry is positioned to align with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals and aims to contribute more to community development and nutrition.

“Without food and nutrition security we will not be able to achieve [U.N.] sustainable development goals,” Greg Miller, global chief science officer for the National Dairy Council said during a session at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.

The Dairy and the Sustainable Development Goals report said environmental and economic factors are often emphasized more than social issues in market development. The dairy sector already contributes to U.N. initiatives with school milk programs that provide daily nutrition, but sees opportunities to source milk more locally. Other goals are best practices related to animal care, biodiversity, soil and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

Lauren Landis, director of nutrition for the World Food Programme, focuses on putting nutritious food into communities, citing milk as an important component. This is especially true for small-holder farmers that can raise animals.

“You give them a cow and all of the sudden you have nutrition 365 days per year,” Miller said.

Until the marketplace is ready for growth, the private industry sector hopes for business leadership to accelerate development.

“We actually have to start to talk to one another,” Chris Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, said to NGOs, government and other stakeholders at the Borlaug Dialogue discussion.

Catholic Relief Services trains couples in African communities on nutritious shopping habits. The organization works to build advocates that can help influence policy. Mary Hennigan, senior technical advisor of nutrition at CRS, said collaborating with the private sector has potential.

Further collaboration was also encouraged by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, speaker at the session.

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Hall of Laureates celebrates those who feed the hungry

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The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, built in 1903, was converted in 2013 to celebrate individuals fighting hunger around the world. Each year the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application is held in the historic venue. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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One of Norman Borlaug’s famous quotes, “Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world,” greets attendees of the Field Research and Application Award recognition. Quotes line the four sides of the Hall of Laureates, all of which evoke the meaning and purpose of the World Food Prize.  (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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A 20-foot-high stained glass window, based on a Christian Petersen sculpture, is located at the top of the grand entry staircase. It was created in Germany and depicts a family in the Hellenistic Period bringing in the harvest. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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Each room of the Hall of Laureates tells one story from Iowa history. The Iowa Gallery is filled with educational exhibits and artwork paying tribute to Borlaug, World Food Prize Laureates and Iowa’s agricultural and humanitarian pioneers focused on the fight against global hunger. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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A portrait of Norman Borlaug with African children looks on as guests gather for the Field Research and Application award ceremony. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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Dr. Zhenling Cui gives a speech after being awarded the $10,000 Norman E. Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Cui has revolutionized Chinese agriculture and fertilizer use, aiding in production yields in the North China Plain. (Photo by Emma Beyer)


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Rural transformation—urban growth: better together


The sun sets over a verdant farm in the Kampot province of Indonesia.                                   (Photo from web archive)

By Morgan Niezing

DES MOINES, Iowa — Focusing specifically on Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the Food and Agriculture Organization found that “rural poor are more likely to escape poverty by remaining in rural areas than by moving to cities.”

Though there is a degree of connection between urbanization and the rate of global economic growth, urban growth must be supported with social policies, according to the 2017 State of Food and Agriculture report published by the FAO and discussed at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.

Both rural and urban areas can make progress toward eliminating poverty and achieving zero hunger goals, outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through inclusive rural transformation. This means supportive public policies and investment in small-scale producers, development of agro-industry and infrastructure necessary to connect rural areas and urban markets, and a focus on rural development planning to connect rural areas and smaller urban centers.

Urbanization alone increases food demand, but often leaves small-scale farmers behind, the report said. This is due to a concentration of food production in commercial farms, value concentration in chains and the exclusion of small farmers from urban markets.

By focusing instead on strengthening existing connections between urban centers and the rural areas surrounding them, both regions can grow stronger together. In addition, inclusive development plans can also incorporate ways to address environmental concerns such as both carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and methane emissions from cattle, the report continued.

According to the FAO, inclusive rural transformation depends on:

  • Reducing resource use without compromising yields through advances in seeds, fertilizer, etc.
  • Optimally managing livestock residues to reduce greenhouse emissions
  • Investing substantially in agriculture extension
  • Consulting with both rural and urban stakeholders
  • Using agriculture methods tailored to specific locations
  • Fostering rural entrepreneurship and employment diversification
  • Investing in social protection programs for rural regions to encourage innovation


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Africa’s Norman Borlaug, World Food Prize winner Akinwumi Adesina accepts Laureate



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By Eleanor Hasenbeck and Emma Beyer

DES MOINES, Iowa – It’s not often that heads-of-state dance in the Iowa State Capitol chambers, but dignitaries were out of their seats at the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony. The ceremony honoring this year’s laureate, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, was filled with the usual pomp and ceremony associated with the place and the Prize, but there was also song, dance and tears of joy.

Adesina committed the entirety of the $250,000 cash award to “set up a fund fully dedicated to providing financing for the youth of Africa in agriculture to feed Africa,” he said. “We will arise and feed Africa.”

For several minutes in the Iowa state capital, though, it was performing arts that took the stage. First the Purdue University Glee Club surprised Adesina by singing his alma mater’s fight song, “Hail Purdue!” and bringing tears to his eyes. Then, Adunni and Nefertiti performed traditional Nigerian music and Nigerian pop star Omawumi sang in Adesina’s honor. From the audience, Former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, Adesina and his wife Grace got up and danced while the audience clapped along.

Before being presented the award, Adesina described via video a 2006 meeting with Norman Borlaug, the man hailed for creating the Green Revolution and feeding billions around the globe. Borlaug put his hand on Adesina’s shoulder and asked if he played soccer.

“He said ‘you know in soccer, if you score your first goal, you get the confidence [to] really win the match,’” Adesina said. “He patted me gently on the back, and he said ‘Akin, go and score the first goal for Africa.’”

Adesina has been heralded as “Africa’s Norman Borlaug.”  For the past 25 years, Adesina has supported millions of farmers across Africa through his work with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and as Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria. Adesina transformed African agriculture through initiatives to expand agricultural production, stop corruption in the Nigerian fertilizer industry and exponentially increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent. Today, he serves as president of the African Development Bank.

Each year, the World Food Prize awards laureates for their advances in building a more sustainable future in agriculture. This year, the 2017 World Food Prize slogan, “the road out of poverty,” emphasized support to small farmers.

During the introductions, John Ruan III, chairman of The World Food Prize Foundation, surprised Adesina with a special video message from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

“The award did not come as a surprise to the Nigerian people, or to me,” said President Buhari.

Buhari spoke about the vast improvements Adesina had brought to the country over the past 25 years, stating he was very proud of Adesina’s ability to rise above limitations to create change in communities.

“You are a true champion,” Buhari said in his message to Adesina.

Ruan continued to praise Adesina for his humility and his popularity.

“No one has caused me more trouble,” joked Ruan, commenting that 1,040 people had signed up to hear the laureate speak.

Adesina grew up in rural Nigeria. Born into humble beginnings, Adesina attended a village school because his father wanted him to see the reality of poverty. After rising to the top of his class in high school and the University of Ife in Nigeria, Adesina earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in agricultural economics at Purdue University.  Adesina became the first person with an agricultural background to lead a regional development bank, now serving as the president of the African Development Bank.

“Everything you do in life, it doesn’t matter what it is, you’ve got to eat, so food first,” said Adesina.  I think the World Food Prize is a great investment that puts the wind behind the sail of what the African Development Bank is trying to do.”

Through his work, Adesina hopes to better the lives of African people through agriculture development. He explained the African Development Bank’s five priorities: to light up and power, feed, integrate, industrialize and improve the quality of life on the continent.

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The 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, greets attendees during an award ceremony. (Photo by Emma Beyer)





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Breaking down silos builds stronger research

By Morgan Niezing

DES MOINES, Iowa — Issues facing the world are not divided into academic departments, and universities should reflect that reality in their search for solutions, Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.

“The big issues almost always require social sciences as well as traditional life sciences,”  McPherson said during a panel on breaking down silos in grant work. “Just think about the big issues, you need people along with the technical solution.”


Peter McPherson urges fellow administrative officials to focus on cooperative research. (Photo by Morgan Niezing)

As the head of a far-reaching association, Mcherson has seen a clear shift from how universities talk about conducting research through multi-department cooperation. Many now actually put this change into action.

“With these grand challenges, it’s just as much about equity as it is about agronomy,” said Cathann Kress, agricultural administration vice president and dean of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University. “And it’s just as much about political science as it is about animal science.”

Kendall Lamkey, professor and chair of the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University, agreed that allowing faculty to synthesize knowledge they’ve gathered can not only glue the faculty strongly together as a whole, it allows for a more complete solution to be found.

There are still obstacles, however. One obstacle for true interdepartmental research is  that grants are often based on which department is applying. If professors from different departments apply together for a grant, after the grant money is divided between them, the researchers go their separate ways to complete their studies, Kress said.

Having multiple department representatives in grant proposal review panels may help limit that issue, said Lamkey, as it would facilitate more opinions. Within a college, one question could invoke multiple answers depending on which department was asked, he said. Having all possible answers represented could result in more comprehensive research.

For example, McPherson said, when the University of Toledo took on water quality issues in Lake Erie, the UT Water Task Force was created. The Task Force was made up of professors from multiple colleges, including civil engineering, environmental science, medicine, political science and public administration, finance and economics. They cooperated with other universities in the area, local governments and communities when searching for possible solutions to toxic water as well.

When working on the issue, he said, no one focused on what department a person was from, but instead what knowledge and experience they could add to the work being done.

Problems are not departmental, Lamkey said, so research should not be either.

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Alliance for African partnership builds local think tanks

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Professors Richard Mkandawire and Tom Jayne discuss the possibility for development with the Minister of Agriculture of Zambia, Dora Siliya, center. (Photo by Emma Beyer) 

By Emma Beyer

DES MOINES, Iowa — Local policy not international aid is the answer to eradicating African poverty, argued a panel at the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Syposium.

“So many years of trying to change rural areas—the World Food Program, the World Bank, NGOs—why aren’t we getting it right?” asked Dora Siliya, Zambia’s
Minister of Agriculture.

What Africa needs is homegrown, African policy institutes, Siliya said. It’s time for African countries to have their own autonomy and decision-making power.

The key, Siliya said, is to build a self-sufficient African continent, complete with a network of think tanks, policymakers, and intellectuals in rural and urban communities. This change comes from three things, she said: improving trade, building relationships between organizations and creating encouraging environments for young people.

Over the past decades, billions of dollars have been given to the continent by international aid. During the 1980s and 1990s, most of Africa’s policy came from Washington, D.C., Rome and the United Nations. The old vision of African doesn’t fit current development in the country, said Tom Jayne,  professor of agricultural, food, and resource economics at Michigan State University and co-director of the Alliance for African Partnership. Such aid left African countries reliant on foreign control, limiting local government power and autonomy.

“This is unacceptable today,” said Jayne.

Siliya’s advocates supporting emerging national think tanks for agriculture policy in Africa. This would create a web of policymakers and experts within the continent rather than having decisions orchestrated from elsewhere.

“Africa needs to rely on internal leadership,” Siliya said.

To create these institutions, countries need to capitalize on the potential of young people, Siliya said. Rural communities need to keep educated, young people interested in working in their communities. The problem, however, is that many seek better opportunities in larger cities and abroad.

Rural-to-urban migration is a problem all over the world. This migration may be even worse in Africa, Siliya said. To combat this, it’s essential to create rural infrastructure and a system that allows farmers to make a decent living. Many rural areas in Zambia now do not have electric power, adequate housing and roads.

It’s about providing resources and changing the mindset, said Siliya.

“We want farming to look sexy,” she said, reiterating a common saying in the agricultural business. “I want to show young people you can still wear lipstick and heels in the farming business. Underneath (my headscarf), I’m blonde,” Siliya joked.

There are currently 2 million small farms in Zambia. There is a lot of work to be done, the panel stated, but change is coming.


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Managing fertilizer saves money, improves human, environmental health


John Oster, right, explains new ideas in sustainable fertilizer management at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. Carrie Vollmer-Sanders and Kent Klingbeil look on. (Photo by Eleanor Hasenbeck)

By Eleanor Hasenbeck

DES MOINES, Iowa – Ohio’s waterways have a dirty history. In the 1960s, flames on the polluted Cuyahoga River helped spark the Clean Water Act. Today, another problem is flowing downstream.

With each rainfall, fertilizer runoff from fields flows through the watershed into Lake Erie, creating an unhealthy concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. On a warm summer day, the concentration of these elements creates the perfect habitat for toxic algae blooms. These blooms can block sunlight and out-compete other species, using up the oxygen in the water. This creates dead zones where fish, plants and other aquatic species cannot survive.

The agriculture industry is taking steps toward the more sustainable use of these fertilizers. Precision land management and controlling runoff through conservation practices can limit the impact agriculture has on the environment.

“We’re not in the dust bowl anymore,” said John Oster, special products and accounts sales specialist at the Morral Companies, a nutrient and agronomy company based in Ohio. “We learned a lot from slash and burn agriculture in the 1800s. We know what not to do. Now we’re putting tags and titles on [fertilizers], and we’re measuring.”

It’s a far cry from the past when farmers and fertilizer dealers assumed that if you put nutrients on the soil, they’d stay there and next year’s crop could use them. “We knew there was a red tide in Florida that once in a while killed a bunch of fish, but nobody knew why,” Oster said during the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium.

The rise of precision, data-driven agriculture allows farmers to manage fields at a level of detail never before seen.  Farmers can now identify what nutrients are needed in specific sites, allowing them to adapt and adjust how they apply fertilizer. This reduces fertilizer waste, as farmers no longer have to guess at what exactly a field needs.

“I think farmers have a lot better understanding of variable rate fertility and understanding putting on too much doesn’t really do any good,” said Kent Klingbeil, director of precision agriculture at the Landus Cooperative out of Ames, Iowa.

A number of other decisions farmers make in the field can keep nutrients in the ground. Practices that prevent erosion, like cover cropping and using less or no tillage, hold both the soil and its nutrients in place. Woodchip bioreactors, a scientific-sounding term for woodchips buried into tiled agricultural trenches, can help capture nitrate runoff. The woodchips attract microorganisms which consume nitrogen in the soil and release it as nitrogen gas, converting it before it hits the watershed. To reduce phosphorus runoff, Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, an Ohio farmer and North American nutrient strategy manager at the Nature Conservancy, recommends applying it just below the surface.

“It’s quite amazing just the difference of what sub-surface applying phosphorus can do for the dissolved reactive phosphorus loads in the tile systems,” Vollmer-Sanders said,

Outside of the decisions a farmer makes when planting a field, practices at the field edge can also capture nutrient runoff. Planting trees at field edges can absorb the nitrogen before it hits the watershed. Research suggests planting trees with a few feet of buffer between the field edge and the tree line can effectively trap runoff while limiting loss of yield due to competition for light and water.  Cost-share programs like the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program can offset the cost of implementing this strategy. Restored wetlands can also hold water after the large rains that typically cause a spike in nutrient runoff. In holding this water, wetlands allow the sediments these nutrients are attached to to sink to the bottom of the pool, where it can eventually be taken up by the root systems of wetland plants.

“We have a big problem with fertilizer lost to the environment and the subsequent impacts on the environment,” said Benjamin Pratt,  vice president of corporate public affairs at the Mosaic Company. “It’s avoidable, and it’s in no one’s best interest to lose fertilizer. If you go back to profitability, farmers don’t want to buy fertilizer and lose it to the environment.”

Preventing runoff makes sense for the environment and for the bottom dollar. A more sustainable use of nutrients is good for aquatic life and human health. Improving the water quality upstream can lead to better habitat in Lake Erie, and safer drinking water in communities like Toledo, which faced three days without water after algal blooms poisoned the water supply in 2014.

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