College of Ag Sciences marking 2012 as 'Year of Global Food Security'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When 70 Fulbright scholars -- graduate students from around the world -- came to a food-security workshop at Penn State in late February, the four-day event kicked off a special year for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The college is marking 2012 as its "Year of Global Food Security." This observance coincides with July's 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which led to the creation of land-grant universities, such as Penn State.

The land-grant mission is still critical today, according to Bruce McPheron, dean of the college. And now it is being broadened by a global perspective.

"Hosting the Fulbright students was a good way to bring attention to the College of Agricultural Sciences' Year of Food Security initiative," he said.

"We want to think about the past 150 years and what the investment in the land-grant system has done for the United States, and then expand the land-grant university mission going forward to help address new challenges associated with a global food system."

Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, the Morrill Act is largely responsible for making Penn State and its College of Agricultural Sciences the vital educational institutions they are today. The act ultimately led to the creation of agricultural colleges in every state.

The bill called for colleges that would, "without excluding other scientific and classical studies, teach branches of learning related to agriculture and the mechanic arts." Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land to be sold, with proceeds used to help establish and fund the educational institutions described above.

The College of Agricultural Sciences will emphasize a global vision as it launches its Year of Global Food Security and the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and the land-grant university system, noted Deanna Behring, director of international programs for the college.

"The world population is expected to grow to 9 billion by the year 2050, and because most of that growth will occur in underdeveloped countries, there will be a whole new demand on our food system," she said. "Increased food production must be done on the arable land that we have, so we must find a way to sustainably intensify our production."

The world is in need of a green revolution similar to the one that occurred in the 1960s and '70s, but incorporating lessons learned from that era. While technology again can help us with that food-production challenge, Behring explained, production is just one piece of the complex food-security puzzle. Solving it is not necessarily going to entail just transferring technology from the developed world to the developing world; issues of accessibility and usability also must be addressed.

"We have to make sure that the infrastructure is in place and that people have the incomes to access safe and nutritious food," she said "Moreover, this work must take place in the context of sustainability, with sensitivity to sovereignty considerations.

"We need to take advantage of the knowledge in those communities at the local level in a way that does not increase their dependency, but rather builds partnerships with the outside world so they can serve themselves."

As part of its Year of Global Food Security, the College of Agricultural Sciences' Ag2Africa initiative will host its second annual Africa2Ag week Aug. 27-30, with a focus on youth as the next generation charged with bringing an end to food insecurity on the African continent. A new initiative, Ag2Americas, modeled after Ag2Africa, will be launched.

Both initiatives closely involve faculty, staff, extension educators and students to facilitate collaborative partnerships to enhance food security.

Also this year, the College of Agricultural Sciences launched its new dual-title degree program in International Agriculture and Development, also known as INTAD. The only one of its kind in the nation, the program is designed to prepare graduate students with technical and other skills necessary to develop and deliver programs to sustain a healthy planet.

The college also announced a revitalized International Agriculture minor with a new curriculum and an increase in international opportunities for undergraduate students. Interest among students is already at an all-time high, with enrollments tripling since mid-2011.

"That trend looks like it will continue as the college maintains its thrust to train a new generation of global citizens ready to work towards solutions to complex global challenges," Behring said.

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Last Updated April 09, 2012