Auburn University leads global network of universities in commitment to fight hunger, malnutrition

December 15, 2014

Mike Clardy, Auburn University

This article was originally posted on The Newsroom website of Auburn University on December 9, 2014.

NEW YORK—Twenty-six presidents and other senior administrators – representing a consortium of more than 60 universities worldwide – today signed the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security at the United Nations, creating a blueprint for higher education’s role in waging and winning the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

“The intellectual expertise of institutions of higher education is greatly needed to solve the problem of food insecurity,” said Amina Mohammed, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General. “This partnership is critical.”

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Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning. (Courtesy: Auburn University)

“We need to sow the seeds for success, not just sprinkle them on top. If planted deeply, our success will grow,” Mohammed added.

One of the first action items of the coalition will be to inventory and map food security activities in areas where hunger is historically addressed at academic institutions: teaching, research, outreach and student engagement. Members of the consortium will get together again in 2015 to discuss progress and outline next steps.

“This can’t just be another meeting fueled by political will,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. “We need to create an excitement about our collective action just like the nation united its scientific efforts after Sputnik.”

“Universities are the moral and social conscience of the world,” said Alastair Summerlee, president emeritus of the University of Guelph and chair of the Hunger Solutions Institute Board of Advisors. “I believe we can beat hunger as early as 2020 if we put our minds to it.”

By signing the pledge, Auburn University President Jay Gogue and leaders from the other universities acknowledge their commitment to making food security a priority. At Tuesday’s meeting, the consortium established a framework for future collaboration.

“Universities have a tremendous role to play in addressing global challenges such as hunger,” said Gogue. “Our institutions have a deep faculty talent pool, an energetic, innovative population of students, an unprecedented commitment from top leadership, and a staying power from generation to generation that lends itself to tackling long-term issues like hunger.”

The Public Signing Ceremony was followed by a Hunger Forum, where leaders from multi-sector entities challenged the universities to become the tipping point in fighting hunger and insecurity.

“We need to equip students to be change makers and innovators,” said Christine Gould, founder of Thought for Food. “Universities are incubators for ideas and offer opportunities for our next generation of leaders.”

“Universities must give a voice to our students, and our leaders must listen to them,” said Brady Deaton, chancellor emeritus of the University of Missouri and chair of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.

After the forum, Josette Sheeran, president of the Asia Society and former executive director of the World Food Programme, asked those who have experienced hunger in their lives or in the lives of their families to stand. Nearly everyone did.

“There is no other issue that is more universal, more human, more visceral but more solvable than hunger,” Sheeran said. “Today is the day universities stood up and declared that hunger will be no more.”

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University presidents gather in New York to sign the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security. (Courtesy: Auburn University)

Tuesday’s event marked the first time universities around the world have shared a collective focus on ending food insecurity. It was also the first time students and university leaders were united in the effort with international organizations, NGOs and student groups joining Auburn in this initiative.

Auburn not only created PUSH, but has been a global leader in the fight against hunger since partnering with the United Nations World Food Programme in 2004. Auburn’s War on Hunger campaign and relationship with WFP led to the formation of Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH). The UFWH movement now has a worldwide coalition of more than 300 colleges and universities.

UFWH affiliates have met annually since 2006 to share ideas and best practices related to local and global hunger. To take the movement to the next level, leaders from more than 30 universities in the U.S., Canada and Central America gathered in February 2014 to discuss taking collective action against food insecurity and malnutrition. The gathering preceded the ninth annual UFWH Summit at Auburn University. It was organized by Auburn’s Hunger Solutions Institute and co-sponsored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. PUSH and the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security are both direct results of the February meeting.

PUSH member institutions include land-grants, liberal arts, faith-based, historically black and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities from six continents. Notably standing with Auburn are Tuskegee and Troy universities and fellow SEC members Mississippi State, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama.