August 22, 2014

Fighting for Food Security

Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series

By Deepak Premkumar, PhD Student in Development Economics at UC-Berkeley and a 2014 Next Generation Delegate

I grew up in two very different worlds: a small Iowa college town and the India of my family’s heritage. Whenever we visited India, my father made a great effort to teach me about Indian culture. As a child, I would sit on the roof of my grandfather’s house with my father, feeding monkeys and listening to his stories of how much the country had changed since his own childhood. One day, we spotted three passing schoolboys who had hoisted each other up and over our fence and climbed one of our trees to snatch a few mangoes. My father caught the boys, who were ten-years-old—the same age as me at the time—and when he demanded to know why they stole the fruit, the boys confessed that they had not eaten all day.

Then, he did something I did not expect: my father gave them the mangoes. Knowing he would not have tolerated me stealing anything, I asked why he let the boys take the fruit after catching them in the act. In reply, he told me about the tremendous suffering in much of India; while many people lack basic necessities, others are very fortunate and so, in my father’s opinion, must help those with less. His words and compassion revealed two other worlds to me, beyond those of Iowa and India that I already knew: one world of privilege and another world of tremendous need. This moment sparked my interest in public service.

Since then, I have sought out ways to use the opportunities I’ve been given to help others and reduce inequality. In 2011, I worked with Empower Tanzania, Inc (ETI). At the time, three of their development projects were languishing, and ETI suspected that it was due to a lack of information on the villages’ resource constraints. Accordingly, I set out to gather this necessary but previously uncollected data. A fellow student and I created a research instrument that combined quantitative household surveys and Geographic Information Systems mapping. The results highlighted interesting discrepancies in the development paradigm, the most prevalent of which was the missing linkages between health and education due to “either-or” solutions, instead of integrated approaches.

I aspire to be a development economist, focusing on the intersection of health and development. I intend to use rigorous quantitative analysis in conjunction with interdisciplinary tools to study the implications of health on food security. While working with the communities in Tanzania that rely on subsistence agriculture, for example, I noticed the deleterious effects that health burdens such as malaria and diarrheal diseases have on food security in the region. When malaria is reported as a consistent problem for 95 percent of households and diarrheal disease is reported at 41 percent, it becomes unimaginable how people could obtain adequate food or steady income while ill, especially when their nearest clinic is over 6 kilometers away.

My experience in the developing world taught me a lesson that extends beyond my research: we are not that different from one another. In both India and Tanzania, I saw the same resourcefulness that comes from successive generations inhabiting the land. I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of Maasai warriors and Punjabi famers, who demonstrate a kind of generosity I have witnessed only in the developing world: taking according to their needs, but giving beyond their means. In that spirit, I am committed to improving people’s lives through my research endeavors, echoing the childhood lessons of compassion and wisdom that my father instilled in me. 


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.