Missouri Youth Institute brings focus to connection between agriculture and social issues

On April 14, 2017, the University of Missouri hosted the second annual Missouri Youth Institute. High school students apply for admission to the institute by submitting a paper about a global hunger and poverty issue. At the institute, students had the opportunity to share their research and recommendations to battle poverty and hunger, while meeting with global leaders in science, industry, and policy, as well as university professors.

Not all students could attend the event, so a couple hundred students across the state did projects at their own schools. Around 30-40 were able to attend the institute in Columbia.

“The biggest thing I probably learned was that each issue is not by itself,” said Carrollton High School junior Allie Lock. “When you’re looking at one issue, you have to look at a million others and to solve one issue, you have to start working on the others as well. Everything really just interconnects.”

Lock submitted her research paper over Romania.

 “Romania currently has a very big problem with government corruption, specifically in the form of agricultural land grabs,” Lock said. “Foreign countries and foreign companies are currently going into Romania and buying up a large part of their land, which leaves the peasant farmer communities without land and without jobs”

Lock said that since the land grabs cost farmers’ their jobs, they contribute to food shortages and food insecurity in Romania. Lock offered a combination between education, governmental policies, and agriculture sustainability as a solution.

“We need to improve governmental policies so foreign counties cannot come through legal loopholes and effect the buying process,” Lock said. “Secondly, we need to improve farmer education specifically on agriculture sustainability practices so they can produce more food so these larger companies won’t have to come in and produce the food for them.”

Students selected their countries based on a list of eligible countries, that included Puerto Rico and Czech Republic.

From the 30 to 40 students who attended the event at MU, the top students are selected to represent Missouri at the Global Youth Institute where they will interact with students from across the world, including China, Mexico and Canada. The Global Youth Institute is held in conjunction with the awarding of the World Food Prize. These events are held in Des Moines, Iowa.

“When Norman Borlaug won the Peace Prize in 1970, it was as Father of the Green Revolution since he, as a scientist, had figured out how to develop Miracle Wheat,” said Keegan Kautzky director of National Education Programs for the World Food Prize.

Kautzky said when the Nobel committee recognized Borlaug’s work, it was for saving over a billion people from starvation. However, because there was no Nobel Prize for agriculture, they had to give him the Nobel Peace Prize, even though what they were recognizing was his agriculture science.

Borlaug went to the Nobel Prize committee and suggested they create a prize for agriculture. The committee agreed that agriculture was important, but Alfred Nobel hadn’t said anything about a prize for agriculture, so they could not create one.

Borlaug decided to create The World Food Prize to fill that gap, according to Kautzky. Since 1986, 45 individuals have been recognized with the World Food Prize, a quarter million-dollar prize given once a year.

The Global Youth Institute is seeking ways to make agriculture relevant to more students.

“I think we just have to be a whole lot creative about what we as a community of agriculturalists are doing to make it relevant,” Kautzky said. “We have to talk about agriculture in new ways. It’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with food and agriculture, but just talking about it the way we’ve always talked about it doesn’t make it relevant to someone.”

Kautzky said we have to be willing to reach out to others and connect agriculture to their passion. For example, to connect social studies teachers to the topic, frame agriculture around social justice, international conflicts, or gender empowerment. Around the world, 80 percent of farmers are women. If women face legal barriers and aren’t paid the same as men and don’t have the same access to education, then that’s directly affecting farmers, women, agriculture, and how much we can produce.

“If we reframe gender equality and empowerment around the reality of the world, actually all of the sudden agriculture becomes relevant,” Kautzky said. “We just don’t do a good job of that.”

Nationally about 10,000 students across the country participate in the World Food Prize on the local level by conducting research projects and coming up with their own solutions. Several thousand will come to institutes similar to the one held at MU and share their ideas. About 300 of those students will go on to attend the Global Youth Institute, and those attendees are then eligible to participate in the Borlaug-Roan International Internship program.

About 25 high school students are sent abroad on two-month, all expenses paid, research placements in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America. From these trips students gain hands-on experiences working with world-renowned scientists and policy makers at leading research centers across the world.

In the future, The World Food Prize and Global Youth Institute hope to partner with other youth leadership organizations to make agriculture more relevant for all students. To learn more information about these groups, click here.

Jacqueline Janorschke

About the Author Jacqueline Janorschke

Years ago, you could find me sporting a shirt that read, “Reading, Writing, Socializing” while attending writing camps during summer break from elementary school. It wasn’t until later that I discovered my passion for agriculture. I joined FFA in high school and I had no idea what life changing experiences I was about to have. FFA led me to create my own business, “Beauty and the Bees,” where I harvest and process honey and beeswax into lip balms and other products. My passion for agriculture and agriculture education brought me to the University of Missouri to major in science and agricultural journalism. I know writing for Corner Post will give me an outlet to communicate with a broad audience about agriculture and I’m excited to see what this semester has in store!