Things to look forward to


On Monday, October 13, the Norman Borlaug Lecture will be presented at Iowa State by Sir Gordon Conway, with the title: The Global Agricultural Crisis of the 21st Century. This will be my second year in the accompanying poster competition, displaying my work on teosinte and tripsicum.
Sir Conway’s bio from the World Food Prize website is simply stunning:

Sir Gordon Conway, United Kingdom
Chief Scientific Advisor, UK Department for International Development
President (ret.), Rockefeller Foundation

Sir Gordon Conway, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England in 2005, is a world renowned agricultural ecologist.  He pioneered integrated pest management in Borneo (Malaysia) in the 1960s, and developed agroecosystems analysis in Thailand.  He was one of the first to define the concept of sustainable agriculture.   From 1970 to 1986 he was Professor of Environmental Technology at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London.  He also directed the sustainable agriculture program of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London before becoming a representative of the Ford Foundation in New Delhi from 1988 to 1992. 

Sir Gordon was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex and Chair of the Institute for Developmental Studies.  Among his publications are: Unwelcome Harvest: Agriculture and Pollution, The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for all in the 21st century and Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All.  He was educated at the Universities of Wales (Bangor), Cambridge, Trinidad and California (Davis). 

If only I had I had the opportunity to spend some time with him. Integrated pest management has been an interest of mine since my first days as a Preventive Medicine Specialist in the Army (I love learning how IPM applies to agriculture). I’d love hearing what it was like to work for these important non-profits doing so much good in the world. I’d especially love to talk with him about how all of us can work to make the world a better place. 
I’m most looking forward to attending his talk because he is an optomist. To have seen all that he has seen yet retain hope and faith in the human ability to overcome obstacles… it’s definately something to aspire to. I found a great example of his optomism and intelligence at Gaia Discovery in the article Sir Gordon Conway on Feeding the World. Sir Gordon says we need to concentrate on “enabling people everywhere to use whatever technology they can use and infrastructure such as input and output markets, to grow more.”

“It’s not just a case of using more fertilizer or the latest hybrid genetically-modified (GM) crops. It’s about giving farmers the best solution to their problems, whether that is pest control, improving water supply or better access to markets. If we can do all these, then people have the option to try other things, like those carnations and walnuts [refering to cash crops], which take them away from subsistence. That’s what we really need if we are to feed the world,” he adds.

I don’t know anyone who thinks GM will solve every problem, but it needs to be an option for farmers, for people who need to grow food to live. While president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Sir Conway challenged anti GM sentiment and blamed the board of Monsanto for the controversey over GM because of their failure to address legitamate concerns about their products, according to the Guardian and Fortune (the articles are old so the science they mention is outdated). 
Such pragmatism is exactly what we need in a world of hype and misinformation!

Also upcoming will be an interview with a friend and fellow graduate student in Iowa State’s Interdepartmental Genetics program. His summer was spent making late blight resistant potatoes, destined for Africa, only to be told that his project was illegal due to IP issues. We only have to find the time to talk!

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