A global pandemic, the upheavals of climate change and political and military conflicts around the world add up to an unprecedented test of the planet's ability to feed its people, a complex challenge that's the focus of Global Minnesota's World Food Day symposium this year.
Estimates by the United Nations and other groups have the world's population approaching 10 billion people toward the end of this century. World Food Day is a project of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, and Global Minnesota's virtual program is one of multiple similar events meant to grow support for the worldwide fight against hunger.
Feeding 10 billion people in a time of massive environmental change "is going to take really creative approaches across communities, countries and cultures to get that done," John Ellenberger said Thursday.
He's senior vice president at Land O'Lakes Venture37, a nonprofit economic development subsidiary of the Arden Hills-based agricultural cooperative.
Ellenberger is one of a host of speakers for Global Minnesota's Friday symposium, which is free to watch live on the group's YouTube channel. They include the executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Programme and the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a former foreign minister of Somalia, and other food activists, academics, corporate executives and officials from around the country and world.
"The day is centered around making these global voices come together around issues causing and raised by the global food crisis, to take stock of where we are right at this moment and to work toward solutions that are both short term — providing more food to people who need it — and addressing underlying causes in public health, climate disruption and political conflict," said Mark Ritchie, president of Global Minnesota.
World Food Day itself is Saturday, the 76th anniversary of the founding of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Land O'Lakes Venture37 has been in existence for 40 years itself, working with both government and private partners to provide funding and other support for food security initiatives around the globe.
"How do we help communities recover from shocks, whether climate-related, political upheaval, civil war? And a lot of the work within that is focused on nutrition, because it's not enough to just be food secure — you have to be nutrition secure," said Ellenberger, who's speaking on a panel about global conflict resolution as a way to foster food security.
He cited recent public-private initiatives in countries including Sri Lanka, where they worked to restore markets for agricultural and other products after a civil war; Mozambique, with an aim of helping small farmers adjust after a series of extreme climate events; and Rwanda, site of an effort to help livestock farmers build more sustainable operations.
"This is a time where our food system is as challenged as it's ever been," Ellenberger said.