"A program such as the World Food Prize Nebraska Youth Institute holds great significance in our society today. As our world population continues to increase, so will the demand for food," Sydney Lovegrove, senior at Fillmore Central High School said.
Demographers project that the world population will exceed 9 billion by the year 2050. One in nine people face food challenges such as inadequate nutrition or inadequate access to resources.
"The World Food Prize Nebraska Youth Institute is an opportunity for students to think about the challenges we all face as the world population continues to grow," Brooke Talbott, WFPNYI coordinator and ALEC recruitment coordinator said. "The reality is we all depend on agriculture because we all have to eat."
WFPNYI is a research-writing scholarship program open to high school students in ninth through twelfth grades. Students research a topic related to food security in a country they choose. Students propose their own solution to alleviate hunger in that area and present their solutions at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Lovegrove was a participant in the March 2016 WFPNYI. Lovegrove researched malnutrition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the program. She presented her essay and proposed solutions to increase educational opportunities as well as implement biofortification and selective breeding techniques to increase agricultural productivity in the DROC.
"We must start brainstorming ideas for the future today, rather than tomorrow," Lovegrove said. "Some of the greatest ideas for overcoming the crisis of world hunger arise from the youngest generation in our society."
Since 2005, over 120 students from over 25 Nebraska high schools have presented their research and solutions as a part of WFPNYI.
For participating in the program, each student earns a $500 scholarship towards tuition for any major in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at UNL. Students may participate for multiple years to accumulate scholarship money, but must write a new essay each year. Topic areas open to research for students range from agricultural sciences, biology, environmental sciences, economics, education, government, human rights and geography.
"A program like this is important because it demonstrates that there is more to agriculture than what is generally assumed," Deanna Montanez-Mendoza, sophomore at Grand Island Northwest High School said. "It shows us how to use agriculture to make the world a better place, regardless of if we're in one field or another."
"There are many more professions that are directly or indirected affected by agriculture than one might think," Talbott said. "For example, someone could work in human rights, address inequality issues and bring about better career prosperity for minority groups who are struggling to find enough money to feed themselves and their families. These seemingly disparate issues are actually all connected."
"Before attending these conferences, I thought to fight hunger you had to be a geneticist, a producer, or a scientist," Cheyenne Gerlach, senior at Tri County High School said. Cheyenne participated in the 2015 and 2016 WFPNYI events, as well as the Global Youth Institute at the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa. The GYI is held in conjunction with the awarding of the World Food Prize each October, given to an individual or group who is improving the quantity and quality of food in the world. Gerlach researched sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia in 2016 and education in Guatemala in 2015.
"The World Food Prize programs showed me my part in helping the fight against hunger," Gerlach said. "My part is creating policy to help find solutions, as my skills lie in government and my interest is in public policy. It takes all shapes and sizes to end world hunger and these programs gave me my shape."
During the WFPNYI event, students also tour campus and participate in "immersion experiences" with UNL faculty where they engage in hands-on experiences with numerous academic departments. In the March 2016 event, students toured departments housed on East Campus and Nebraska Innovation Campus.
"The most enjoyable thing about WFPNYI 2016 was being able to go around and see all of the different buildings," Abigail Campbell, sophomore at Grand Island Northwest High School said. "My favorite one was seeing the food scientist and learning exactly what is in our food. I also learned that the coloring of food can change how you taste the food. If you see red Jell-O, you may think that it is cherry, while it really could be a different flavor."
After presenting their work, students become Borlaug Scholars, awarded by the World Food Prize Foundation. Norman Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize Foundation and state youth institutes, is the inspiration behind the Borlaug Scholar certificates. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his research in wheat and for his lifelong dedication to feed a hungry world. Borlaug believed that when given a voice, young people are empowered to become the next generation of problem solvers, scientists and researchers.
All Borlaug Scholars are eligible for the Bruce and Kathy Maunder Borlaug Food Security Scholarship, a $2,000 scholarship towards tuition for any major in CASNR at UNL. Incoming freshmen are eligible to apply and sophomores are eligible for renewal.
Bruce Maunder, founder of the scholarship, knew Borlaug personally and shared stories of Borlaug with students during the Hank Beachell Luncheon at the 2015 WFPNYI. The Hank Beachell Luncheon is a part of the event each year, which honors the legacy of Henry, "Hank," Beachell, a native Nebraskan who won the World Food Prize in 1996 with Gurdev Singh Khush for their rice research.
"WFPNYI has several goals for students," Talbott said. "We want to open the door for honest conversations centered around food security and expose students to career areas related to food, the environment and people. We also want to connect students with different cultural groups and their traditional customs."
"WFP is valuable for students because it invites them to learn how people live in another country," Kurt Vandewalle, agricultural education instructor at Fillmore Central High School said. "It can open their eyes to real problems that people face on a daily basis."
During the March 2016 event, students got to experience a different culture firsthand. Seth Mock, founder of the Midwestern African Museum of Art and Karanja Njoroge led the group in an African prayer, song and dance. Students were able to drum and dance along with Mock as he asked for rain for a plentiful harvest.
"My hope is that when students go home, they've gained a greater global perspective," Talbott said. "I want students to remember that the world is a lot bigger than Nebraska, but still small enough for them to make a huge impact right here, from Nebraska."
To learn more about WFPNYI, access the paper writing instructions and the Maunder-Borlaug Food Security Scholarship, visit casnr.unl.edu/worldfoodprize.
For more information about the World Food Prize Foundation, USDA Wallace Carver Internships or Borlaug-Ruan International Internships, visit www.worldfoodprize.org.
CASNR and ALEC host WFPNYI in partnership with the World Food Prize Foundation and the Malaika Foundation, which fosters a greater understanding of peoples and countries throughout the world for students and educators. To learn more about the Malaika Foundation, visit www.malaikafoundation.org.