The Chicago Council’s #GlobalAg summit in one word? Innovation.

The Chicago Council’s #GlobalAg summit in one word? Innovation.


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Yesterday, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend The Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium 2013, an annual event that brings some of the brightest and most innovative thinkers (and doers) to Washington, D.C. With an introductory message from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and keynote remarks from Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE; Lauren Bush Lauren, founder of FEED; and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, this year’s event was global agriculture’s version of the Oscars.

Global food security experts share ideas at a panel. Photo credit: @JashDillon via Twitter. 

Advancing global food security through science, trade and business was the theme of this year’s event and there were several panel discussions featuring a diverse cast: academics and scientists; CEOs of start-up companies and nonprofits; and government officials. If you want, you can watch a webcast of the entire event here.

There were too many ideas and discussions to comprehensively document in this post, but one overarching theme was the power and vitality of innovation in addressing global hunger. Throughout the day, different speakers addressed the need to breathe creativity into one of the world’s most intractable problems. Fortunately, the rapid advances in technology and the sciences offer unprecedented opportunities to alleviate hunger and extreme poverty. Most of us can agree that the current model of global food production and distribution is not working if 870 million people are undernourished. Below are some exciting examples of innovation in the agriculture and food security world:

Digital Green: this India-based start-up harnesses the power of social media by allowing farmers to share best practices with one another. Groups are organized by Digital Green and watch instructional videos using a battery-powered projector. Over 130,000 smallholder farmers (70% women) have received agricultural extension training through their model in India, Ethiopia and Ghana. Recently, the organization launched “Farmerbook”, a Facebook-style platform that allows farmers to post videos, track each other’s progress, and get answers to questions.

Modern Meadow: Straight out of a science fiction novel, Modern Meadow is transforming the future market for meat production and animal products like leather. In response to the heavy environmental toll of consuming burgers and bacon, Modern Meadow is using tissue engineering to culture meat and leather without having to raise, slaughter or transport animals.

African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Development (AJFAND): Based in Kenya, the AJFAND was founded by Dr. Ruth Oniang’o, who had a vision for an online peer reviewed journal to help budding African scientists publish their work and share findings on a global stage. Now her dream is a reality and this quarterly journal shares practice insight into issues that benefit farmers and the agriculture community. Recent papers look into the shelf-life of tilapia caught in Lake Malawi and the benefits and challenges of growing bananas in the highlands of Uganda.

Next year’s event could be improved by including farmers or farmer organizations during panel discussions to address their unique constraints and challenges in a way that business and science can understand. Not only is there a need to use a common language, there is a need to augment the productivity conversation to include other challenging issues such as postharvest loss and reducing risk for farmers. All in all, it was a great day of knowledge exchange and learning, and I’m excited for what will be discussed (and accomplished) in 2014.

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