Conference panel ties global food security to national security

Addressing global food security requires a multilevel approach that starts at the seed level and ends on a global scale. Tackling the issue has implications not only at a humanitarian level but also at a political level, according to Sen. Todd Young, who spoke Thursday at the America's Role in the World conference at Indiana University Bloomington.

Todd Young, right sits on stage with Richard Lugar at the America's Role in the World conference.View print quality image
Todd Young, right, and Richard Lugar address the America's Role in the World conference at the School of Global and International Studies at IU Bloomington. Photo by Ann Schertz

"One might argue that our leadership is more needed than ever, as coalitions fall apart and as the post-Cold War ferment continues," Young said. "Food security promotes national security."

Young was joined on the panel by former Sen. Richard Lugar; Gebisa Ejeta, director of the Purdue University Center for Global Food Security; and Jon Eldon, Indiana University Ostrom Workshop visiting scholar, on the second day of the two-day conference sponsored by the IU School of Global and International Studies. The panel was moderated by IU political science professor Christine Barbour.

Young spoke about the connection between food insecurity and political disruption, pointing to Yemen -- a country in which citizens are most acutely hungry, and in which civil war and terrorist groups are disrupting everyday lives -- as an example.

Lugar discussed the Global Food Security Act of 2009, also known as the Lugar-Casey Food Security Bill, which he enacted during his 36-year tenure in Congress.

Former Sen. Richard Lugar on stage discussing food security.View print quality image
Former Sen. Richard Lugar, center, discusses food security during one of the conference sessions. Photo by Ann Schertz

The bill focuses on two major approaches: using U.S. taxpayer money for largely international food aid and considering scientific approaches to make advancements abroad, like founding universities and institutions in places like Yemen. 

Ejeta spoke about partnerships abroad from personal experience: His high school and undergraduate education in Ethiopia was developed by former President Truman's Point Four Program that provided assistance to countries abroad.

This success isn't one-sided, Ejeta said. There are tangible domestic benefits to boosting other countries when it comes to education and agriculture.

"If these people that we provide assistance to succeed, they in turn become our partners," he said. "This is to our self-interest."

Eldon spoke about the issue from a ground level, literally -- he has spent years studying nutrient cycling and food security in the South Pacific and West Africa.

He hopes to reorient solutions from short-term to long-term by empowering farmers abroad with more options, reframing the conversation from what farmers should do to what they can do.

All scholars agreed that putting more links in place between countries and expanding universities and knowledge will better empower farmers and citizens globally to access a secure food supply.

Young feels optimistic about the future, despite the fact food security is an "intimidating" issue. Progress will come with creative, not prescriptive, solutions, he said.

"We're making progress," Young said. "We're making substantial progress. We can do this."