Sewanee Students Attend the Global South Summit

Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:09:00 CST  — by: Joanna Parkman, C'14, Sustainability Undergraduate Fellow

GSS-Web-Header-LogoOn November 11, undergraduate sustainability fellow Joanna Parkman ’14 traveled to Nashville to attend the two-day Global South Summit. Shari Balouchi ’15 joined her, and both students participated in the Summit Fellows Program, thanks to nominations and generous funding by the Babson Center for Global Commerce. 

The Global South Summit, sponsored by the Cumberland Center’s Global Action Platform, focused on the creation of abundance through innovation in three major areas, including food, health, and prosperity. Parkman elected to attend the series of lectures concentrating on food systems, agriculture, nutrition, and hunger issues. She had the opportunity to meet the former president ofHeifer International, a World Bank representative from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, and the director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, among many other key leaders in the field.‌

Plenary speaker Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro discussed the importance of “uncommon collaborations” between diverse stakeholders, citing Mars Inc.’s cacao (cocoa) research as a model. Shapiro described how he led a team composed of IBM, the USDA, and university researchers in sequencing the cacao genome. Of particular note is the project’s emphasis on publicly accessible, open source data. As Shapiro stated, there will be no intellectual property restrictions on the information. He also stressed the project’s benefits for farmers, consumers, and corporations, alike, as the sequence will aid in breeding disease-resistant and higher yielding cacao trees. Through theSustainable Cocoa Initiative, Mars Inc. has committed to sustainably source its entire cacao supply from certified farms by 2020.

Dr_Howard_ShapiroIn the first panel discussion, “Building an Abundant Ecosystem for Food: Finding Consensus on What is Good Food,” Michael Dimok, the president of national food movement organizer, Roots of Change, challenged attendees to change the way they conceptualize food systems. He elaborated, advocating for a departure from the industrial format with which most have come to view agricultural production. Instead of this flawed perspective (one that aims to eliminate diversity), Dimok urged the adoption of a biological paradigm allowing for evolution and adaptation. This session also brought to light the difficulties in defining “sustainability,” a term that inherently attracts multiple interpretations. For example, passing a farm on to one’s offspring does not necessarily mean that the operation qualifies as ecologically sustainable.

In a session entitled “New Enterprise Models for Food,” Mark Cackler, the manager of the Agriculture and Environmental Services Department for the World Bank, suggested that agriculture presents unparalleled opportunities for sustainability, as “the only sector that can remove carbon from the atmosphere”. Furthermore, he stated that farmers compose the largest group of private sector actors, so their voices will be critical in shaping future food policy. 

Finally, in the panel discussion on Sustainable sourcing Models for the Food Chain, Jeff Pfitzer the program director for Gaining Ground, Chattanooga’s local food initiative, outlined challenges specifically facing the local food movement. He cited price, convenience, and awareness as three major barriers for widespread local purchasing in communities like Nashville or Chattanooga. Pfitzer called for the development of communication and information systems that can provide consumers with more confidence in their choices.

For more information about the 2013 Global South Summit:

For more information about Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro and cacao gene sequencing:

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