Opinion Columns & Blogs

K-State researchers engage in world-changing work that benefits Kansas as well

Ernie Minton

If you’re like most Kansans, you have some direct link to farming and ranching. Our history and traditions as a state are tied to the land. And you know it isn’t just a job – it’s our mission to ensure everyone has enough food to eat and be healthy.

It’s humbling to lead Kansas State University’s efforts to ensure farmers succeed in this mission. They serve here at home and have influence across the world, especially in places where far too many men, women and children go hungry on a daily basis.

What many Kansans may not know is how K-State is reaching around the globe to address the problems of world hunger and food safety.

Recently, the U.S. Agency for International Development renewed three of our Feed the Future innovation lab partnerships – two of them for five years and one for three years – with combined initial funding of $21.9 million.

Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s initiative to combat global hunger. We partner with 70 universities across the country to develop better tools for agriculture, increased resilience and nutrition at home and abroad.

In the past 10 years, Feed the Future has offered a hand up – rather than a handout – to 5.2 million families who had been battling chronic hunger, and ensured 3.4 million children no longer face malnourishment.

And as much as it helps the people in the world who need it most, it is a win-win program at home, too.

Five years ago, USAID invested in three innovation labs at K-State. A fourth was added a year later, and we hope to see it renewed next year. USAID support and follow-on funding have totaled more than $100 million in research that is based in Manhattan, Kansas.

Here's a sample of the broad benefits coming from the labs that were just renewed:

▪  In Ethiopia – the birthplace of sorghum – K-State researchers are learning how to grow sorghum and millet varieties that can resist drought, disease and pests. The work there has direct connections to the crop-growing conditions Kansas farmers will soon face.

▪  In India, our experts are breeding wheat and learning about its genetic makeup so we can develop resilient, higher-yielding varieties for use there and here. By growing research plots around the world throughout the year, research advances can happen faster.

▪  In Guatemala, our scientists have learned more about aflatoxin in corn, its negative effects on people, and how to minimize its spread so consumers have healthier, safer food to eat. In a bad year, aflatoxin can cost U.S. producers $1.67 billion.

These are a small sampling of the work being done through our partnerships in 15 countries.

With opportunities for K-State students to work in Feed the Future labs, we are preparing the next generation of researchers and ag producers to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. By collaborating with the brightest minds on the planet, they’re building better, more effective tools for tomorrow.

Kansans can be proud that the first land-grant university makes the world a better place and solidifies their home state as a global leader in food production.

But this is no time to rest. Food access is on the decline today. The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says one out of every nine people on the planet faces chronic hunger.

Each of us must do our part to ensure the health and prosperity of our neighbors, and I’m grateful for Kansans’ support in all of K-State’s efforts to make a difference.

Ernie Minton is Kansas State University’s interim dean of the College of Agriculture and interim director of K-State Research and Extension.

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