Last year, the U.S. population officially reached 300 million. A milestone, to be sure, but not exactly "earthshaking" when compared to global figures. The United Nations estimates current world population exceeds 6 billion people and predicts it will increase to more than 9 billion over the next 50 years. At the same time, land devoted to crop and livestock production is forecast to decline. Even today, food security is a major concern in many regions of the world. The U.N. estimates 800 million people -- more than 2 1/2 times the total U.S. population -- are hungry and every 3.6 seconds someone dies of starvation. If the issue seems daunting by today's standards it's overwhelming when one considers the future.
But that's not to say the next generation is about to give up on the issue. As Nancy Crowfoot discovered last fall, the World Food Prize is inspiring young people to fight global hunger.
For eight weeks in the summer, Winterset, Iowa high school student Kara Mohs lived in India, assisting in the research of agri-biodiversity management. Her internship took her from a research greenhouse– to rural villages – to the river, to see firsthand the restoration of a mangrove forest.
Kara was one of 12 students in 2006 – and one of nearly 90 students since 1998 – to have received a Borlaug-Ruan International Internship from the World Food Prize Foundation. To qualify for the expense-paid internships that place high school students in research centers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa ... the students were required to first participate in a 3-day Youth Institute program.
The youth program is held annually in conjunction with the World Food Prize celebration and symposium in Des Moines.While attending the event, the youth have the opportunity to interact with many of the World Food Prize Laureates and other experts who've contributed to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food.
All the students, with the help of a faculty member from their school, are required to present a discussion paper to a panel of experts on an assigned theme relating to global food issues.
Bringing students together has been a fixture at the World Food Prize since 1994, when the organization's founders -- Des Moines businessman and philanthropist John Ruan … and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug -- decided to add a youth component to their foundation's mission.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, founder, World Food Prize:"We are bringing high school students in to the academic/scientific arena, exposing them in their presentations some aspect of hunger, malnutrition, how it affects not only health and survival but also the role of politics in food."
Since its inception twelve years ago, more than 500 Iowa students from 145 high schools have participated in the Youth Institute.Since 2001, the program expanded to include students from 12 other states and the District of Columbia ... and youth from 9 other countries.
The goal of the program -- and the summer internships -- is to inspire youth to pursue careers in food, agriculture and natural resources.
Such participation has influenced many. According the World Food Prize Foundation, former Youth Institute participants have gone to college and studied subjects ranging from agronomy to food and animal science to international economics.
For example, Kara Mohs has returned from India and is now a high school senior. But she is already thinking of her future beyond graduation.
Kara Mohs, Borlaug-Ruan Intern: "I have changed my goals a lot since I have come here. I was very focused on business before, especially the finance part of it. But now that I've come here I've learned that it's a lot more than just financial status that is keeping these people where they are now. And so I've always wanted to make some sort of difference in the world but now that I've been here I've realized other pathways that can make that difference besides the set path I've been on since third grade."
Helping her to "realize" the difference she can make in the future were the mentors and others she met while in Chennnai, India, working at the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation. The foundation was established with the $250,000 World Food Prize award given to organization's very first recipient in 1987 -- Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.
M.S. Swaminathan, 1987 World Food Prize Laureate: "I think these young boys and girls have not only done something practical but also have developed some values which are important."
Over the years, the World Food Prize foundation has sent ten percent of its 88 interns to Dr. Swaminathan's research center.
M.S. Swaminathan: "The World Food Prize Foundation benefits from the experience of all these young scholars. They put together a publication which summarizes the main findings of these people and being young and creative minds they are able to see problems in a different light."
The students return to the United States and must present to the World Food Prize Foundation, a 20-page report highlighting their cultural and professional experiences. They are experiences that have affected many students' perceptions of how issues of poverty and hunger affect much of the world's population.
Kara Mohs, Borlaug-Ruan Intern: "And I think the biggest change for me is that I knew there was poverty out there but I never, I always lumped those people into a category. And here I realize that these poor people are the ones who can teach us the most I suppose about life and things like that."