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.
It’s four o’ clock in the afternoon. The Sonoran Desert sun beats mercilessly on the dry, sandy soil. The slight shade of a large tree cuts the heat ever so slightly, but it’s the only freedom from the desert’s scorching heat.
As an intern for The Fatted Calf, a non-profit organization focused on enriching youth with agricultural education, my 2017 summer afternoons were spent teaching a gardening course under the shade of an old tree in the Sonoran Desert. My main priority was emphasizing to my class of five-to-eleven year olds the importance of shade and water to the health of their hand-sown tomato plants. In short, my goal was to teach the basics of plant care, but more than that I hoped to teach them to understand water’s fundamental, overarching importance in producing not only their tomatoes, but all food.
I often compared a plant’s need for water to our own need for it, asking my young students to recall moments of how they felt during intense thirst. Their frequent responses were tired, weak, and droopy; the same as a thirsty plant beginning to wilt. I saw this comparison connect with my young students.
One shy, wiry eight-year old in particular perfected the art of growing tomatoes throughout the summer and at the end looked up at me grinning under the brim of his oversized John Deere hat to state: “I want to be a farmer someday!” I left Mexico after that summer not just hopeful that I had made an impact on my young students about the importance of water, but that I had left them excited for a future in agriculture.
As a Next Generation Delegate at the 2019 Global Food Security Symposium, I was blessed with the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives directly from leaders in policy, governments, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. These leaders were united to address one common goal: ensuring our water management practices sustainable and provide nourishment and clean drinking water for the 9.8 billion people 2050 and beyond. The unity around addressing this challenge was evident during the event with great dialogues and healthy discussion, including among my fellow Next Generation Delegates, all of whom had differing backgrounds yet equal passion to find solutions to this grand challenge.
Hearing stories of fellow Next Generation Delegates from around the world also put in perspective that there is no one solution that fits every scenario. In addition, these issues will not be solved by one industry or one perspective. It will require cooperation with private and public sectors, nutritionists, agriculturists, and many others to ultimately find a solution that will work long term for the benefit of communities and future generations.
The Council’s annual report reveals that some regions of the world with the highest levels of food insecurity, such as sub-Saharan Africa, actually have potential to expand their water accessibility and become more sustainable in their agricultural development. This expansion into their water resources may alleviate their high levels of undernourishment. Even regions such as the United States, which on a global perspective is food secure, will need to adjust for increasing demands of water as water scarcity increases in North America. Water scarcity is not a regional occurrence, and is impacting all of us.
Attending the Symposium made me appreciate the long-term commitment many of these leaders in policy, research, and innovation have set to find solutions to water scarcity and food insecurity, each hopeful that the improvements made today will positively impact future generations. In addition, each of us Next Generation Delegates are leading in our own distinct ways in our local communities, states, and countries to support these current leaders of today and to inspire youth to seek opportunities in food production, like the young boy who dreams to be a farmer in the Sonoran Desert.