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DC High School student on her way to helping end world hunger
Monday, Oct. 27, 2014

The time is now for high school students who want to join her

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – The world is facing “the single greatest challenge in human history: whether we can sustainably feed the 9 billion people who will be on our planet in the year 2050,” according to World Food Prize President Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn.

Dassel-Cokato High School FFA student and junior Emily Amundson is on her way to becoming one of the future leaders that will help solve this problem.

Amundson was one of seven students from Minnesota, and 160 students from 24 US states and territories, who attended the 20th World Food Prize Global Youth Institute and Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium Oct. 16-18 in Des Moines, IA.

Student delegates also came from Canada, China, Egypt, Mexico, Morocco, and Nigeria.

“The World Food Prize is the pinnacle of what we are trying to achieve in the agriculture industry, feeding what will be over 9 billion people on earth by the year 2050,” said DC FFA advisor Eric Sawatzke. “The students who are coming through our program are building skills that prepare them to help us solve the world hunger issue, among so many other challenges we are facing these days. Hopefully we will be able to continue to have a DC FFA member attend this event every single year.”

The theme of this year’s institute was “The Greatest Challenge in Human History: Can We Sustainably Feed the 9 Billion People on our Planet by the Year 2050?”

Students who attended earned the opportunity by researching critical aspects of global food security in developing countries, and then submitting their solutions and ideas in papers centered on the theme.

“Emily was the perfect person to complete this essay and attend the World Food Prize,” Sawatzke said. “I have rarely come across anyone with as much selfless leadership as she demonstrates on a daily basis. It is no surprise to me that she is interested and invested in helping to solve the world hunger problem.”

The Global Youth Institute is a program started by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who saw a need to connect the brightest scientists in the world with students so that they could find out how close the world is to solving world hunger.

“It has been my goal for the past seven years to get a student to be a part of the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute,” Sawatzke said, noting Marissa Caskey wrote a paper for the Minnesota Youth Institute last summer. “Now, Emily has moved past the Minnesota program on to the next level, and that is one of the most exciting things that has happened over the past seven years of my teaching career.”

At the institute, students spent time talking with and learning from some of the most influential leaders in science and government in the world, Sawatzke added.

More than 1,200 global leaders and experts from more than 65 countries attended the World Food Prize’s annual Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, which was the first event Amundson attended.

Included in that group are researchers, secretaries of agriculture, and world leaders, such as the president of Sierra Leone.

“They had really important and incredibly smart people talk about their experiences in agriculture,” Amundson said of the Borlaug Dialogue. “We got to have a live video chat with the president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma. We also personally met the ministers of agriculture from several different countries, including Mexico, Uganda, and Rwanda.”

One of those really improtant, incredibly smart people made a significant impression on Amundson when she stopped to thank him for his work, and had a brief personal conversation with him.

That person was 2014 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, a plant scientist born in India and a citizen of Mexico whose scientific research led to a prodigious increase in world wheat production – by more than 200 million tons – building upon the successes of the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution was a series of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives tjat increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, that occurred between the 1940s and the late 1960s.

Rajaram told Amundson that his generation was getting old, and they hadn’t accomplished a whole lot, recounted Amundson.

“The problem of hunger is not going to be solved by my generation. It is you and your generation that will solve it,” Rajaram said to Amundson. “We cannot do it, but you, you can do it. You now have the tools, resources, and possibilities to solve it.”

Sharing research and finding solutions under expert guidance

After touring different agricultural corporations Friday, of which Amundson toured Syngenta, it was the students turn to shine by presenting their ideas and research.

Students were put into small groups consisting of seven to nine people and sent to a room with three experts in agriculture.

Three college professors – one from Vietnam, another the head of agriculture for Purdue College, and the last the head of agriculture for a college in Iowa – were in Amundson’s room.

Each student had three minutes to present a five-page research paper to the other students and the experts.

“I got to go first, which was kind of nerve-wracking,” Amundson commented. “Luckily enough, the experts knew what I was talking about and they had very good questions to ask me.”

After each student had the opportunity to present their paper, a discussion took place amongst them and the experts, the goal of which was to pick three key factors that had an effect on agriculture and food security.

“What my group found was that the countries all need better educational systems,” Amundson said. “They need a better central government, and they need to find ways to help their water resources.”

Amundson’s group then chose her and a girl from California to present their findings to the larger group.

“The whole event on Saturday was absolutely incredible,” Amundson said. “I was, at first, very nervous to have to present to all of these smart people, but I came to realize that this was not a competition, or anything like that, at all. These experts that were there, were there for us. They were excited to see how excited we were about agriculture.”

Women are becoming the leaders in ending world hunger

“At the event, there was one thing that stood out to me – there were a lot of women there,” Amundson said. “It is found more and more that women are moving to be our future leaders and world changers.”

In fact, two-thirds of the participants in the Borlaug Ruan International Internship program, and most of its superstars, have been young women, according to Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation.

The Borlaug-Ruan International Internship provides high school students an all-expenses-paid, eight-week, hands-on experience, working with world-renowned scientists and policymakers at leading research centers around the globe.

Amundson noted that many of the people attending the institute from African countries were women. “They are all so incredibly intelligent,” Amundson said. “Some of the things they were telling us were way over my head, but I knew that they had worked very hard to be where they were at.”

What’s next for Amundson

Amundson now has the opportunity to apply for many different internships, one of which is through the Agriculture Department at the University of Minnesota that Amundson intends to complete during her senior year of high school.

Two additional internships she has the opportunity to apply for are the Wallace-Carver Fellowship through the United States Department of Agriculture and the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship.

“I really was perplexed when I got into this whole ag thing,” Amundson said. “I always wanted to be an astronomer, or have something to do with the stars. Now, I really have a strong passion for agriculture and finding a way to help feed the world.”

Although she does not know what the future has in store for her, or what she will decide as a career choice, she said she will never give up her passion for agriculture and helping others.

“With opportunities like this one, I am able to know that I don’t have to be a farmer to make a difference or to help feed the planet, but that there is a role that we all play,” Amundson said. “It definitely impacts my future plans for what I would like to go to college for.”

She noted she will always stay committed to agriculture and FFA, and help inform others about the current issues faced by the world.

“This year in speech, my speech will be an original oratory on bettering global education systems and programs based off of some of the research I have done and the research of my fellow members at the Global Youth Institute,” Amundson said.

Getting others involved in the fight to end world hunger

Amundson is currently a regional FFA officer, and is working to make sure that her fellow Minnesota FFA members, especially those from DC, know about the Global Youth Institute.

“With what I have learned here, I will push for there to always be one student from DC that is a part of this,” Amundson said. “This is too good of an opportunity to miss.”

The program is already in full swing for the upcoming year, Sawatzke noted.

“Interested students and parents should contact me soon, because the due date for the paper is at the beginning of March 2015,” he said.

Sawatzke can be reached by phone at (320) 286-4100 ext. 1883 or via e-mail at eric.sawatzke@dc.k12.mn.us.

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