A peek into ‘Global Food Systems’

During my second semester of my first year, I was required to take Global Food Systems. As a development novice, I wasn’t entirely sure what the class would cover; moreover the value it played within a larger development perspective. After all, my background is primarily in marketing and communications. Sadly, the only insight I had into any type of food system was the label of origin on my local vegetables.

Truthfully, I had initially placed prioritization on the class not just because it was a required MPA-DP course, but also because MPA-DP Director Glenn Denning teaches the course. I knew the course would be challenging and rich, considering Glenn was involved with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for more than 18 years. He was at the forefront of replenishing Cambodia’s destroyed rice fields (and thus, helping to grow an impoverished nation) after the horrendous genocide of the “Killing Fields.” If anyone was going to show me both the micro and macro benefits of a national food system, it would be Glenn.

Looking at a country’s food system through a micro lens helped me to understand the importance of soil and vegetation within a country. For example, is it beneficial for a country to produce domestically for their citizens, or should they instead import certain food internationally? One case Glenn cited was about United Arab Emirates. The country is one of the top 10 most water-scarce countries in the world, yet has invested so much in complex irrigation systems. An interesting debate ensued in which my colleagues and I argued whether or not this was a beneficial systemic plan.

Glenn also presented the importance of understanding a food system from a macro view. South Africa, for instance, is self-sufficient in agriculture and is even an exporter with certain products. (Wine anyone?) However, the food system linkages are weak, and many South Africans experience “hidden hunger” and malnutrition. A country’s food system will have direct impact on the health of its citizens. Currently, some South Africans are experiencing obesity and resulting non-communicable diseases (heart disease). This, along with its alarming HIV/AIDs prevalence, their food system is imperative to the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

In the end, I really enjoyed this class. It was a great balance of different perspectives of the food system, along with some integration of health and nutrition in a development context. If you’d like to learn more about the MPA-DP program, please feel free to contact me. The Global Food Systems course runs every spring semester, and there may be an opportunity to sit in the class if you are considering the program.

[Photo courtesy of Michael Goode, MPA-DP 2014]