Regular readers of this blog know that I am in deep admiration for those researchers who are using their skills to tackle the seemingly intractable problems that plague so many-especially poverty and extreme poverty.
I am in awe of researchers such as Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug who was widely considered the father of the “green revolution,” the wonderful work at MSU helping to tackle food scarcity in Flint with the Flint Eats app and other creative uses of technology such as the Michigan State University research teaching farmers in East Africa using video technology.
Now we can add Oakland University researcher, Jon Carroll to the list of researchers using technology to solve the problem of poverty in Africa. Dr. Carroll is using drones to create very precise images of water and chlorophyll in the plants which can then lead to precise, hyper-localized solutions for crop yield leading to a very sustainable agricultural model.
In the excellent article by OU News, Dr. Carroll talks about the impact that this research experience had on him.
He states, “This was a very different kind of project because I was surrounded by the people who were going to be affected by this research.”
Questions for Discussion
- Why is sustainable agriculture important to Jon Carroll?
- How did he use the drone technology to improve crop yields?
- What are some of the solutions he might recommend to farmers?
- Why was this experience so memorable for him?
- How else could you imagine using the drone technology to help the farmers in Africa?
Most of us are excited about the great progress technology is making to improve crop yields, reduce chemical use in agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable to help feed our growing population. But will the simple act of farmers using this technology feed the world?
Doubtful according to the University of Kansas Law Professor, John Head. In Head’s new book, “International Law and Agroecological Husbandry: Building Legal Foundations for a New Agriculture,” he argues that there must be international legal mechanisms to ensure that the benefits of this technology are distributed equitably.
One of the key aspects to his vision, is long term planning and thinking as espoused by a few of my heroes such as Wendell Berry and the visionaries at the Long Now Foundation. Head talks about the need to move beyond thinking in 5 year cycles and to vision decades into the future such as developing a “50 year farm bill” that Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson wrote about in a NY Times article.
Check out Mike Krings’ feature on John Head and his book for more details of this important, perhaps essential element, of a transition to a sustainable, equitable world. I think creative educators might create a wonderful activity- a thematic unit on sustainable agriculture integrating the science, the marketing, the economics, and the legal. How would you do this in your classroom? Let us know!
Questions for Discussion
- What is the “extractive agriculture” system?
- What are elements of an “agro-ecological” approach?
- Why will simply implementing higher yield crops not simply solve the problem of food insecurity?
- Why is long-term planning and thinking essential to solving issues of food insecurity?
- How do you think professor Head’s background impacted his interest in this topic?
- The article talks about the need for new global treaties to address this topic-what might these treaties consist of? Who would be the involved nations?
- What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”
For an inspiring source of information on efforts to feed the world check out the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities website.
In these dark days of midwest winter, when the cold earth seems barren of life, this series of articles and videos on kernza, a new higher protein wheat, that will stay in production for five years, reducing the need for tilling the soil is truly inspiring. As is the feature on the graduate student, Caroline Jones, who is going into accounting to help reduce poverty by working in non-profits dedicated to this mission.
I enjoyed the wonderful feature on professor James Bradeen, who is researching ways to reduce chemical use in food production. The post features a great series of info graphics and brief videos highlighting the importance of the potato in food security. Did you know the potato has over 39,000 genes and that over 1 million people died during the potato famine?
I really love how the University of Minnesota web and news team integrated these inspiring and informational stories in a thematic way.
As an educator concerned with helping students think of non-traditional careers (plant research is non-traditional in suburban Detroit, as is accounting for non-profits!!), I really love how the team wove the personalities into the science.
I think educators who are interested in helping students find ways to solve-pressing real world problems would find this series of features from the University of Minnesota to be a great resource.
Questions for Discussion
- Why is food security such an important issue?
- How many potato genes are involved in detecting pathogens?
- Why is reducing chemical use in food production important?
- What are the benefits of kernza? Can you think of any negative consequences?
- Why is the potato such an important element of food security?
- How has genetic research changed in the past ten years? How has this change been helpful?
- Where did Caroline Jones work as a field accountant? What does she see is her true passion?
- What other crops do you think are essential to food security?
- What crops are important in your state?
- Why is an interdisciplinary approach essential to solving the issue of food insecurity and hunger?
- What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, and do?”