Agriculture at Home and Abroad
By Jonathan Pearson on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Ten years ago, after Tom Stillwell (India 64-66) joined the faculty of the School of Agriculture at Wilmington College in southwestern Ohio, he was assigned to teach a course on world food production.
It wasn’t long before he approached his colleague and fellow RPCV Al Conklin (Philippines 66-69) with a dilemna. Tom quickly realized there was no textbook on world food that he could use for his coursework.
“Well” said Al, “We’ll have to write one.”
Both men literally had a world of experience from which to draw upon. For starters they joined the Peace Corps and worked on agriculture projects after having both grown up on farms (Tom, not far from the college in nearby Piqua. Al was raised on a farm near Wilmington, Delaware).
Al says his Peace Corps service was instrumental in his decision to pursue a PhD in Agriculture, Chemistry and Soils. Peace Corps was also “habit forming”, as his 25 years at Wilmington College has included three Fullbright Scholarships and work on several additional projects in an array of countries including the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Niger, Kenya, Tanzania and Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, Tom’s conclusion of Peace Corps service led him to a 25-year career working on agriculture and international development in countries ranging from Mexico to Tunisia, from Ecuador to Cameroon.
In their textbook (World Food - published in 2007), the two RPCVs track and compare the livelihoods of a subsistence farmer in the Philippines, a family farm in Ecuador and a farm near the Wilmington campus.
Al notes that “If not for language differences, farmers around the world can readily communicate. If someone is growing 10,000 acres of corn, they face the same problems as someone growing 1,000 acres or one acre. There are differences in size, machinery and other matters, but they still have a lot in common.”
As food security is the focus of increased attention at the international level, the two professors expressed serious concern about the future.
Tom – who wrote the chapter in the book about famine – says “We ain’t seen nothing yet.” From the famine in India in the late 1960s to more recent food shortages in places like Darfur, a major challenge in combating famine remains inadequate food delivery systems. “Every country needs to be producing enough food to feed its population.” says Al. And with population trends increasing in vulnerable regions like sub-Saharan Africa, Al and Tom say there is reason for deep concern.
The two professors lament that the students they teach have a limited worldview and are primarily interested in local and regional concerns (although Al notes he found the same attitude when working and teaching farmers in other countries). Both try to expose their students to the world beyond Ohio’s bumper crops of corn, soybeans and wheat. Tom started a popular garden on campus to highlight the wide range of crops that are grown in the United States. Both are committed to bring an international perspective to their classrooms.
But classroom lectures, demonstration projects and a textbook can only go so far when it comes to global food production and challenges.
As Tom notes, “Until you’ve really seen famine, really seen people truly hungry for food, it doesn’t hit you.”
Our NPCA August Road Trip is into the home stretch! Two stops remain in Morgantown, West Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland. Follow this link for details.
Want to connect with farmers in Africa? Africa Rural Connect (ARC), a program of the National Peace Corps Association, is an online global collaboration network where knowledgeable people work together to communicate and respond to the needs of African farmers. The ARC platform allows you take an active role in building development initiatives that can directly affect the lives of rural farmers. Last year, thousands of people joined the ARC community– posting and collaborating on hundreds of ideas.