September 10, 2019 | By Garrett Onstot

Next Generation 2019 – If We Only Knew about the Problem

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2019 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 2019, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

I spent my childhood on a small cattle farm in the Midwest. There, I thought food and water were plentiful. Rarely, if ever, did our wells dry up—and if they did, our pond held water through the harshest summers. In Iowa, the nation’s largest producer of corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs, over 93 percent of the land is farmland and over 80 percent of farmers rely solely on natural rainfall to grow their crops. Growing up surrounded by this bounty, I failed to recognize shifts in global water scarcity. I couldn’t comprehend how poor farming practices in the Midwest could impact farmers in the Global South, because it was something I had never seen. I failed to recognize my role in this challenge—until, that is, I encountered my first eye-opening experience in resource-poor Kamuli District of Uganda.

In Uganda, I worked on a binational team to conduct an observational study on rain-water collection. The results were astonishing and pushed me to recognize the grasp water holds on one’s livelihood.  On average, the livestock farmers I spoke with in Uganda spent four hours a day collecting water from the local well. This limited farmers’ ability to expand and diversify agricultural production; hindered children from attending school; and, ultimately, reduced household food-security. In the Kamuli District of Uganda, water was the limiting factor.

While this was a new perspective to me, it is not, and has never been, an isolated issue. Rising challenges in food and water scarcity exist across the world, and I was honored to partake in the 2019 Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC, to discuss those challenges. Sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, this program offered tremendous opportunities to engage with thought leaders in progressive agriculture. Of the experience, I remember the call to action from Ertharin Cousin and A.G. Kawamura most clearly: “We have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet, but do we have the will to?” We have the technology, resources, and knowledge to grow, distribute, and feed everyone on the planet—but having this ability and acting on this ability are not synonymous.

Ertharin Cousin expanded, “If the United States’ population knew about the sustainable development goals, how it would look to achieve them by 2030?” It will take U.S. leadership, farmer-led small-scale irrigation, and the extension of knowledge. Kawamura added a need for an augmented food supply via different production systems. While all true, perhaps the most important point was “if the United States’ population knew…” Real change cannot transpire until people see it as a problem.

This is just an example of the many thought-provoking discussions that took place throughout the symposium, each challenging me to think critically on issues related to food and water. It was especially humbling to take part in the Next Generation Delegation where I spoke to scientists, engineers, authors, future political leaders and more about their dedication to this cause. We need a population that is more aware—hungrier for necessary change in our food system—and upon reflection of my experience with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs I feel confident that we are heading in the right direction.

I’m committed to continuing my studies in sustainable livestock production. Animal-source protein provides a valuable resource in alleviating poverty and hunger. It’s my research interest to find and understand the most sustainable production systems to produce more with less. We have the capacity to feed everyone in the world, but do we have the will? I have the will and I hope each of you reading this does too. It takes all of us.


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 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.