May 21, 2013

Live Blog - Chicago Council: Agriculture and Health Nexus Panel

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder, Food Tank

The Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium continued with another panel discussion on “The Agriculture and Health Nexus,” moderated by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology and associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School; and associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. The participants included:

Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer, Mars, Inc.; senior fellow, plant sciences, University of California, Davis; distinguished fellow, World Agroforestry Centre

Dr. Subbanna Ayyappan, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Government of India; director general, The Indian Council of Agricultural Research...

Hon. Prof. Ruth K. Oniang'o, founder and editor-in-chief, African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development; founder and CEO, Rural Outreach Africa

“How many enemies can I make on this answer?” Dr. Shapiro boldly called for large agribusinesses like Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont to make all their information public and readily available. Dr. Shapiro criticized these companies for not being entirely honest about their goals and motivations.

The open sourcing of agricultural and nutrition research by agribusinesses would be a “gift from industry and the private sector to the public,” says Dr. Shapiro. This would allow for greater innovation and research. Dr. Ayyappan also noted the need for an increase in sharing resources in agriculture.

Professor Oniang’o reflected on the shift back towards traditional eating practices in her native Kenya, and the rejection of the Western-style of diet. She said that many Kenyans attribute a rise in cancer due to these dietary changes. Dr. Ayyappan similarly noted the dramatic increase in diabetes in the Indian subcontinent, also associated with dietary changes.

Dr. Mozaffarian was critical of the focus on just increasing caloric production, and not the quality or production of the food. There is a risk of agricultural science disengaging from nutritional science. These two fields are interdependent, and a global view of health “from in utero to elderly” is needed.

This interdependence is also seen on a global scale. Professor Oniang’o noted that “Africa may look like the forgotten orphan child, but Africa will be feeding the rest of you.” Better coordination and clearer long-term goals are critical, argues Professor Oniang’o, in order to achieve measurable success in reducing hunger and malnutrition.

Food Tank will be live-blogging presentations from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Global Food Security Symposium.


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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| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.