One wants to build greenhouse skyscrapers to feed the world. Another wants to increase shelf life of food to avoid waste. A third wants to help developing countries improve their food supply chains.
The ideas come from 10 students at five universities who were chosen for a fellowship program sponsored by Land O'Lakes Inc. They leave this weekend for two weeks in Africa to study farming practices in Malawi. That will be followed by time in Washington, D.C., and visits to key Land O'Lakes cooperative farms across the U.S. to experience different facets of agribusiness.
The program, Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security, is based on the theory that feeding the world's population will require a collaboration of ideas and innovators from all areas of expertise.
Land O'Lakes CEO Chris Policinski said the intent is to inspire students — tomorrow's leaders — to become engaged early with a huge ongoing challenge: increasing world food production by 70 percent to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.
"There is no better way to help drive global security than to ensure food security," Policinski said.
The students are all sophomores who were chosen competitively last fall, matched with professors to guide them, and given a series of assignments to spur their thinking about food security issues. The summer includes an 11-week paid internship to travel together and see agriculture in action.
University of Minnesota student Jonathon Sabel, majoring in chemical engineering, said that 800 million people are chronically hungry in the world, including 15 million in the U.S., and he wants to help solve some of those problems.
Developing better ways to store food might make it more profitable to bring healthy, nutritious food to some areas that now cannot get it, he said.
"There's many new technologies coming out to make sure that we're being efficient in both the U.S. and throughout the world," Sabel said, "and we can help to conserve some of our resources as we help to grow more and get that to more people."
Mandi Egeland, who studies entrepreneurial management at the U's Carlson School of Management, said she applied for the fellowship because she wants to do something that matters, and global food is about as big a problem as there is.
"We're so fortunate here in the United States and sometimes it's easy to get stuck in that mind-set," Egeland said. "So this experience has really helped me challenge other people and challenge my own viewpoints."
The program also accepted students from four other partner institutions, including Iowa State, Purdue, Northwestern and George Washington universities.
The students will present their final projects to industry experts and leaders at the Global Food Challenge Summit, hosted each fall at Land O'Lakes headquarters in Arden Hills.