Why the World Food Prize is Important to Me
Why is the World Food Prize important to me? The answer begins with the World Food Prize Symposium in 2006 when I was ten. My parents told my brother and me, “People from around the world are coming to Des Moines, and we are going to meet them.” I was just glad to get out of school.
That day, I met a person who helped save a billion lives. Norman Borlaug’s efforts in breeding wheat to prevent famine inspired me and made me want to learn more. I also met Ambassador Quinn, who has been a significant influence on my life.
In 2007, I met Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, a world renowned agriculture expert and the first World Food Prize Laureate. I never imagined that in six years I would be a Borlaug-Ruan Intern at his research station in India.
The World Food Prize Symposium in 2009 was an especially influential event in my life. First, the eulogies from Ambassador Quinn and others on Norman Borlaug’s passing made a big impression on me. Second, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta was the Laureate. The year before, he took time to talk with me about his research and about Purdue where he is a professor. When he was on the stage, I remember thinking, “I know him!” After the ceremony, Dr. Ejeta made time to talk with me again, and he introduced me and my brother to his wife Senait and their children. Third, one of my childhood superheroes, Bill Gates, spoke at the Borlaug Dialogue that year. The room was packed, so, as kids, my brother and I sat on the floor in front of Mr. Gates. He looked and spoke directly to us. He talked about many important things, including how we must strive for both productivity and sustainability, not just one or the other. I have a copy of Bill Gates’ speech that I read every now and then for inspiration.
In 2010, I participated in the Global Youth Institute, which gave me the opportunity to study and write about ways to improve food security in Costa Rica. In 2013, I was selected as a Borlaug-Ruan Intern to the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in India and spent two months researching ways small-holder millet farmers adapt to climate volatility. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Swaminathan and learn about his “Evergreen Revolution” efforts to increase sustainability.
Because of the World Food Prize, I met Dr. Jay Akridge at the World Food Prize in 2012 when I was a senior in high school. He was then Dean of Purdue’s College of Agriculture and he told me there really is something special about Purdue. To see for myself, I visited campus. One thing led to another, and now I’m a senior at Purdue and soon to graduate with a triple major in Biological Engineering, Biochemistry, and Plant Breeding. Purdue is a special place, but the World Food Prize is where things started for me.
Since 2006, I have attended the World Food Prize Symposium every year but one. I have been a part of the Iowa Youth Institute, Global Youth Institute, and Borlaug-Ruan Internship programs. I also volunteer at youth programs and schools to share the inspirational stories of Norman Borlaug, the Laureates, Ambassador Quinn, and others involved with the World Food Prize.
My goals will evolve over time, but taking a long look and considering our challenges, rapidly advancing technology, and where progress needs to be made, my overall goal is to be a professional engineer and expert in circular systems which will become increasingly important for food production. I am especially interested in discovering, breeding and using plants and other environmentally friendly means to engineer biological systems that improve water efficiency and quality.
So, why is the World Food Prize important to me? The short answer is for inspiring me, and many other people, to help “improve the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.”
Let’s keep the World Food Prize growing!