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Data expert says global food crisis can be averted

Time is not on our side, however, as her projections say it could begin in 10 years 

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Sara Menker, founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence, told a crowd of about 1,000 people why there doesn’t have to be a global food crisis. 

Menker, a native of Ethiopia, was the featured speaker for the fifth instance of the Henry C. Gardiner Global Food Systems Lecture Series at McCain Auditorium on Oct. 8.

She shared her story about quitting a prestigious job as a Wall Street commodities trader to form Gro Intelligence, which aims to find solutions to world hunger. 

Global leaders have warned of a looming food security crisis for nearly a decade, estimating that by 2050 the world will need to produce 70 percent more food. According to Menker, a potential food emergency may happen within the next 10 years.

“It’s not that there is not enough food in the world, it’s just that large segments of the population do not have access to food,” Menker said. “We can meet the demands of a growing global population, but only if we get smart and address the vast data gaps that exist across the global agriculture industry.”

The Henry C. Gardiner Lecture Series was created in 2015 by the College of Agriculture/K-State Research and Extension. The Gardiner Angus Ranch family from Ashland, Kansas, endowed the lecture series to allow university students, faculty, staff and Kansas citizens to interact with U.S. and international food-industry leaders. 

 

Agriculture Today interview with Menker


Student views

Three College of Agriculture students offered their thoughts about the lecture, how it related to their classes and future goals, and how a global food crisis would affect Kansas and K-State students.

“At K-State, and especially within the College of Agriculture, feeding the growing population is a major focus area,” said Katelyn Harbert, sophomore in agricultural communications and journalism with a secondary major in global food systems leadership. “Menker’s lecture correlated directly with our efforts to find solutions to the challenges facing agriculture today and in the future.

“A global food crisis would be an additional obstacle for all people to overcome, from farmers struggling to fulfill the needs of the growing population to students lacking confidence in the future as they finish their education and prepare to enter the workforce.”

Harbert recalled the most impactful data presented in the lecture was addressing how to produce “an extra 214 trillion calories per year to feed 8.3 billion people in 2027.”

Taylor Cotton, senior in bakery science and management with minors in leadership studies and business, said she would like to get into the field of commodities after college. 

“This topic directly correlates to my Fundamentals of Global Food Systems Leadership class,” Cotton said. “We are talking about how different parts in the global food system impact each other. 

“I thought it was very interesting that she said the agriculture industry is emotionally driven; we need to start taking the emotion out of this issue to start making progress. We need to start looking solely at the facts of the situation, so we are able to make logical decisions.”

Dean Klahr, a senior animal sciences and industry major with a minor in agricultural economics, said, “I think a global food crisis would be detrimental to both Kansas and K-State students. With a food crisis, I think it would hit the poorer population in rural Kansas and the college students that are known for being ‘broke.’

"It is sad to think there is a huge food crisis in many places around the world, and most students and Kansans don't even give it a second thought.” 

He said Menker’s comment that “food is inherently politics” made him take notice. “Sara pointed out the map of Africa versus the United States and how much more arable land they have; yet they produce so little because of the food system we struggle to change,” Klahr said. “One of her biggest points to me was her ending point; that … we need to form our education to prepare our youth for the future, not the past. That will best prepare us for the changes in the food system.” 

 

Full video of Menker's lecture