The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Now is the Time - Stand Up and Lead

By Tessa Rose Mahmoudi
Optimistic Plant Pathologist

As a teenager growing up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota, I was privileged to participate in the World Food Prize Foundation Global Youth Institute in 2011 and then to become a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern in 2012. This experience changed my life. At any age, being asked difficult questions can be alarming, but at 16 years old, I was faced with what would become my passion in life - finding a way to help feed the millions of people on this planet by focusing on plant health. 

Embarking on my journey to Turkey, I did not know what to expect, but I came back changed. I was prepared to answer questions like, “What was your favorite responsibility in the lab?” and I could say, “Identifying cereal nematode cysts with a microscope,” faster than you could ask the question. But I was not prepared for generic questions that were not focused on my experience. “Have you chosen a major for college?” “Are you going to apply for grad school?” How could the world not understand what I had just encountered? How could the world sit back and ignore the fact that we needed to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050? 

I took my experience with the World Food Prize Foundation - which eventually also included a Wallace-Carver Fellowship - and turned it into essential research and dialogues with those fighting hunger around the world. I saw the real power Research & Innovation has to change lives. I am forever thankful to the World Food Prize Foundation, my family and mentors for supporting my dream of traveling to research stations to learn first hand how science supports Equitable Livelihoods for farmers around the world. I constantly kept the mission of Norman Borlaug in my mind, and never forgot his immortal words, “Take it to the Farmer.”

To young people attending the Global Youth Institute and the Borlaug Dialogue this year - you are joining Dr. Borlaug, me and countless others in the fight to end hunger. Look towards the next chapter of your life and ask yourself the difficult questions. Don’t shy away from the unknown. The challenges that youth around the world faced in 2020 prepared a generation of change-makers to acknowledge injustices and find paths to address global food insecurity and disparities in the process. While we have the opportunity, it still takes significant courage to take action.  

I understand that no matter what your age, stepping up, taking action or even introducing yourself to a renowned scientist or political leader to initiate that conversation takes incredible strength. For me, that strength was learned and cultivated through the World Food Prize programs.

Today, I call upon youth around the world to find that courage to take action in our food systems. Raised by Minnesotan farmers, founder of Reaching Roots and now a plant microbiologist, I have the opportunity to engage firsthand in dialogues with students, scientists, researchers, policy-makers and other fellow farmers. Throughout my career, I have worked with sick plants - the norm of our current food systems. However, through these dialogues there is an opportunity for systematic, collective action to transform our current “business as usual” to Nutrition-Sensitive Food Systems, for people and the planet. 

Now, we all have a stage to create “old dialogues in new ways” and teach ourselves and others to do new (Zoom) tricks. In 2011, the World Food Prize Foundation opportunity showed up in a time in my life when I needed something to show others that I, a young woman, was worth investing in. I am here to tell you that participating in the 2021 Borlaug Dialogue and Global Youth Institute is worth investing in. This is our chance as young professionals to be a part of the conversation, stand in the light and show the world that we are ready. Norman Borlaug knew it then and it is still true now - the youth will determine the future of food security. 

08/05/2021 2:00 PM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Enjoyed reading of your perspective!

Ronald Phillips | | 08/18/2021 2:27 PM
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