The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

My Experiences with The World Food Prize: Embracing Complexity, Seeing Possibility, and Creating Opportunity

By Madeline Song
Borlaug-Ruan International Intern

There have been certain experiences in my life that I can only describe as defining and life-changing. I encountered one such experience at the 2015 Global Youth Institute, where I heard Sheryl WuDunn share her book, “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity.”

In her speech, she introduced the concept of “opportunity” through a series of powerful stories about everyday altruism. As I read her book, I met real people from entirely unique backgrounds who had inspired social progress in communities across the world. I began to see what my role, as a high school student from Southern California, could be in the fight against world hunger. I was able to understand why Dr. Borlaug and the World Food Prize had established programs like the Global Youth Institute—they believed in the power of individuals, of all ages and backgrounds, to create opportunity and transform lives. 

Dr. Borlaug was a champion of opportunity. Through his research, he empowered farmers to increase their yields and protect their crops against disease; through his determination, a billion people worldwide were able to escape famine and starvation.

In high school, I explored agriculture and bioengineering through science fair projects and research internships at UC San Diego, but I felt a constant disconnect between this work and what I wanted to contribute to the fight against world hunger. I wanted to work on the frontlines of agricultural research and innovation to better understand the complex issues plaguing farmers and how I could use this information to help shape a more food-secure future.

This desire led me to the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco), in Jalna, India, where, as a 2016 Borlaug-Ruan intern, I conducted research on RNA interference and its use in breeding insect-resistant rice crops. As I worked in the Molecular Entomology lab, I also trained with various other research groups, each of which, in partnership with other Mahyco labs, breeders, and farmers, were directly involved in the testing and production of these seeds. It was a demanding and time-consuming process, far more complex than I had imagined.

That summer, I learned how to experience culture and immerse myself in rich traditions, a beautiful language, and a flavorful cuisine brimming with spice and liveliness. As I approached my work with a better understanding of the people and places around me, I found greater success communicating with fellow scientists as well as rural farmers and villagers I met in the field. While traveling to farming communities in India, I realized that it was not enough to develop a high yield or insect-resistant crop that was feasible in a scientific context—I had to take into account cultural differences if I wanted to truly serve people’s needs.

Through the World Food Prize, I have seen a world of greater complexity but also, a world of more possibility. This complexity and possibility is not discouraging or overwhelming—rather, it reveals a greater need for diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives in the search for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. As a freshman at Princeton University, I plan to continue working on the frontlines of agricultural research and food security, but with a greater focus on a different perspective: one exploring statistics, economics, and policy-oriented research.

In 2015, Sheryl WuDunn shared the stories of real people, diverse backgrounds, and inspiring progress. The next year, I explored such stories at Mahyco, where I encountered researchers involved in a variety of projects, connected by a passion to empower farmers with hybrid seeds and biotechnology. Dr. Borlaug had set this all into motion when he redefined what it meant to be a scientist and hunger fighter. Through his hands-on approach to research and close collaboration with farmers, he was able to truly create opportunity and empower people with science and innovation. 

As I explore different perspectives on agriculture and food security in the future, I do so with a passion to create opportunity, transform lives, and continue Dr. Borlaug’s legacy.

02/26/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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