My trip to the World Food Prize events in Iowa this month reminded me why the university’s push for preeminence matters.
Stature gives you an opportunity to make impact. Stature means people believe you can do what you say you want to do – that you can walk the talk.
That’s particularly important when millions of lives are at stake. On the biggest stage of international agricultural development – essentially the week of food’s Nobel Prize – UF/IFAS succeeded in focusing attention on perhaps the gravest short-term threat of famine on the planet.
An insect called the fall armyworm poses a threat to the food security of 200 million Africans. The world has the expertise and technology to stave off this threat, but it will take someone to assemble an international coalition to do it.
Why UF/IFAS? Because we have a record of international engagement. Because we have a couple of the entomologists with the most expertise in what makes the fall armyworm tick – and what we can do to make it untick.
And because UF/IFAS has one of the most well-known and respected scientists in the international agricultural development community, Pedro Sanchez. He has wide and deep relationships with leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations focused on agriculture as a way to lift millions out of poverty.
From the time I got off the plane in Des Moines, I could see that the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is considered a vital partner in feeding the world.
Pedro is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate, which means he’s a rock star whenever he comes back. There was a car waiting for him at the airport, well-wishers hugging him in the baggage area, access past the velvet rope in the plenary session hall, emails from high-ranking officials to set up meetings with him.
As he approached an escalator, Pedro received a warm greeting from the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. This year’s World Food Prize laureate, Akinwumi Adesina, singled out Pedro and the University of Florida at a press conference as one of the great hopes for the science of stopping the armyworm.
I had my own escalator run-in with Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. We laughed about how she had once told me that I needed to visit Africa if I expected to make an impact on that continent – and then how good it was to see each other in Kenya this spring when I finally did.
When Pedro and I hosted a breakfast to discuss the fall armyworm, we had to pull in more chairs. Attendees from the African Development Bank, the Gates Foundation, USAID, and many other organizations attended. These are people we partner with to do global good.
By midweek USAID Administrator Mark Green told a plenary session of 1,000 people that the world needed to rally to the cause of stopping the fall armyworm.
Stature gives you a megaphone. Long before this month, we did the work to ensure that the world knows that UF/IFAS matters.