Saturday, December 20, 2014

Universities getting into "hunger amelioration" programs? What can they do?

Universities are always considered as centers of higher learning where students can achieve academic excellence through hard work in a congenial environment. Some of them are specialized in application oriented research, results of which are used by the industry and the society for the betterment of humanity. Such research efforts are bought by the user industries by investing in the required infrastructure for mass production. But it is difficult to imagine these universities ever bothering about food scarcity and hunger prevalent mostly among poor people in many countries and this attitude often invites criticisms from some quarters regarding their elitist nature. Such a notion is sought to be removed by the latest move by a few universities in the US banding together under an initiative from the US government to work for food security around the globe. This new initiative is expected to help coordinate existing endeavors in some universities which are working on energy, health and other pressing problems to day's world is facing. Here is a take on this new development which if it is seriously pursued can make this world a better place to live.

"Penn State is one of  one of nearly 50 universities worldwide that have banded together to address the global issue of hunger  Leaders from these universities will sign The Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security – a declaration acknowledging their commitment to make food insecurity a priority. There is a ceremonial signing set for Dec. 9 at the United Nations in New York. PUSH – Presidents United to Solve Hunger – was created by Auburn University in Alabama in February as the result of a first-time gathering among leaders of more than 30 universities in the U.S. (including Penn State), Canada and Central America. PUSH and the Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security are both direct results of the February meeting. "As a land-grant institution with a major economic impact and research enterprise, Penn State is already playing a tremendous role in addressing extraordinary global challenges related to energy, disease, health care and clean water to name just a few," said Penn State President Eric J. Barron, acknowledging Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences as the lead on this effort for the University. "I'm proud to say that the issue of world hunger also is being addressed in various ways at our University through research and student activism. Our hope is to elevate these activities in concert with other institutions. Together, we have a wealth of expertise and leadership that can lead to meaningful change." The public signing ceremony and other related events mark the first time universities around the world will share a collective focus on ending food insecurity. Tom Gill, assistant director of international programs in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, noted, "Our faculty and students are committed to working across colleges at Penn State and with a range of diverse partners around the world to develop scalable solutions that can combat global hunger." PUSH member institutions include land-grants, liberal arts, faith-based, historically black and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities from five continents.'

One may ask what any university can do to enhance food security situation which is invariably related to the low purchasing power among people due to which they are not able to access food already available in the market. Universities do know this harsh reality but they can always contribute to knowledge regarding the nutrition and health aspects of food and also train people in income generating activities. Besides they can also train health workers and extension activists to provide succor to people. A note of caution is called for in this noble idea as these universities must understand their limitations in establishing outreach to their intended target beneficiaries.  Probably they can best fit into a global program of training the trainers who can disseminate their knowledge and skill by working among the intended beneficiaries. India should also consider joining such a movement which will expose the young university scholars to the reality of food insecurity that exists widely in many parts of the world including India. 


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