June 9, 2017

Guest Commentary – Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

By Michaela Hoffelmeyer, BA candidate, Global Resource Systems and Public Service and Administration in Agriculture, Iowa State University, and 2017 Next Generation Delegate

As a Next Generation Delegate at the Council’s Global Food Security Symposium in March, I had the incredible opportunity to engage with experts and emerging leaders in agricultural development. While studying Global Resource Systems at Iowa State University, I have learned about traditional development strategies to alleviate poverty. The Symposium exposed me to some of the newest and most innovative techniques being applied to the age old issue of food insecurity.

My interest in agriculture developed as I saw my own community depend heavily on agriculture to sustain rural livelihoods. I grew up on a small, diversified farm surrounded by large-scale conventional agriculture in Iowa. Being raised in this environment exposed me to key issues associated with large-scale agriculture, such as high levels of nitrates in drinking water and sediment pollution in local water sources. Eventually, in an effort to better understand different types of agriculture than the ones I grew up around, I interned at the International Rice Research Center in the Philippines and completed a service-learning trip with the NGO ISU-UP in Uganda. Through these experiences, I gained an appreciation of the potential for small-scale agriculture to reduce poverty globally.

As an undergraduate, I have researched two distinct fields related to global food security. I have spent the last year working with Dr. Carmen Bain, studying how international development organizations frame discussion around women's empowerment. Despite the fact that 70 percent of women in Africa are involved in agriculture, few women own any land. Across the literature, women are cited as being more altruistic and thus more likely to invest earnings into their families and communities. If women were afforded the same resources as men, agriculture yields globally could increase up to 30 percent. While improved childhood well-being and increased yields are valuable outcomes of investment in women, such investment should not require economic or strategic justifications. However, similar to investment in women, those involved in promoting food security must find ways to stress the relevance of this issue on a global, economic, and political scale. The overarching theme of this year's Symposium highlighted the link between national security and food security—but I believe that issues such as women's empowerment and food security require nothing more than a moral call to action.  

My second area of research broadly works to evaluate ways environmental conservation can be achieved while improving community livelihoods. Traditionally protected areas or national parks can frequently fail to account for the local population’s reliance on the land for resources. Conflict between humans and nature will only continue to increase as population grows. As highlighted by one speaker at the Symposium, where and how we grow our food is the largest threat to biodiversity—but the link between poverty and environmental degradations is not well understood. For example, does a poor environment cause poverty or does poverty result in environmental degradation? While interning at Bioversity International in France, I had the opportunity to study how ecosystem services relate to poverty reduction strategies. Ecosystem services are broadly the benefits humans derive from nature. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) has been a large scale policy initiative to use monetary incentives to promote environmental conservation while improving community livelihoods. Conceptually, PES offers a unique approach to socio-ecological issues. However, PES has been criticized for failing to fully benefit those targeted. While in practice PES has experience shortcomings, the promise for using policy to improve environmental protection without damaging local livelihoods illustrates progress for future strategies.

Because of my interest in the social nature of agriculture, I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Rural Sociology at Penn State University in the fall. I am excited about using knowledge from the symposium as a tool to engage with agriculturists in developing solutions surrounding socio-ecological issues relating to food security. 

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:


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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