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Monday, December 22, 2014

MU hosts meeting of agriculture experts picked by Obama

The meeting featured presentations on global efforts to combat food insecurity.

MU played host to a public meeting of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development on Friday.

In the meeting, titled “Globalization of agriculture and food research, teaching and engagement at land-grant universities,” the board of agricultural experts presented reports on agricultural outreach projects in African and Asia and discussed efforts to improve research at home.

The members of the board are presidential appointees, including MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, picked by President Obama to chair BIFAD in 2011.

“We are especially proud of being able to host this meeting of these international policy advisors on our campus,” Deaton said in a news release before the event. “We have an incredible challenge before us — to produce food for 9 billion people — and we need our best scientific thinking to meet this challenge as we help people feed themselves worldwide.”

The board, comprised primarily of public university officials, was created in 1975 to use the knowledge of research universities to help combat international food insecurity.

The meeting featured morning panelists who discussed topics including crop damage in Southeast Asia and efforts to modernize agricultural production in countries like Kenya and Ghana.

A major issue in advancing aid in global agriculture development is the lack of access to international funding, said Doug Randall, National Science Board member and director of the MU Interdisciplinary Plant Group.

“One of the things that we have found when looking for innovative ways to develop international collaboration was that, legally, so much of the money that comes to U.S. researchers cannot come across our border,” Randall said. “You can’t take money, you can’t send money. There has to be some new, innovative ways of releasing these funds.”

Marc Linit, associate dean of research and extension at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, was a member of the panel that discussed MU’s efforts to promote interdisciplinary work.

“The theme that runs through this campus' strategic statement is interdisciplinary research,” Linit said in his presentation. “It’s right up front, we put it right up front. I know that several of the top priority items address primarily how do we continue to develop the culture of interdisciplinary research and teaching.”

In his presentation, biochemistry professor Bill Folk said he believes interdisciplinary research must be expanded to international venues.

“I think interdisciplinary research is extremely important, and I think the University of Missouri, particularly, is a role model for doing that; however, international research is a step above or even more difficult than domestic interdisciplinary research,” Folk said.

Focus should be placed on incentives, Folk said.

“Since the subject of this conference is ‘How can we promote more international interdisciplinary research?’ I think we really need to focus on what are the incentives and disincentives for that,” Folk said. “I think much needs to be done in order to provide incentives for, particularly, young faculty to participate in international research.”

The event was streamed live on the Reynold Journalism Institute’s website, with the highest number of viewers at 95. The stream ran with a chat room, and comments were read aloud during the meeting.

The presentations came to a close with Deaton thanking the panelists and attendees, especially those from areas outside of Missouri.

“It’s been a very invigorating session and BIFAD will be continuing to work very aggressively on everything we’ve heard today,” Deaton said. “And I want to thank everyone from the university community that were involved as well as USAID representation, which we will soon be having a dialogue with.”

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