During a speech last week at the U.N. meeting in New York, Mississippi State University (MSU) president Mark Keenum highlighted the important role universities and open data play in addressing world hunger.
Keenum spoke in two separate sessions Friday during the Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition (GODAN) 2016 Summit. The two-day summit brought together public, private and nonprofit leaders to discuss the importance of shared scientific data and expertise in providing global food security.
“University research, outreach and teaching have helped feed the world’s growing population throughout the past century,” Keenum said. “We have vital expertise to contribute to every aspect of the challenge and every step of the food chain – from the laboratory to the farm, to the market and to the table.”
Other speakers during Keenum’s morning and afternoon sessions included high-ranking officials from the U.N., academia, industry, international governments and the U.S. government. During his speeches, Keenum touted the collaboration among nearly 90 universities to create the Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) consortium, a collection of university leaders dedicated to making food and nutrition security a priority. The presidents’ Commitment to Food & Nutrition Security has been signed by university presidents and chancellors from around the world, providing a framework for collaboration on a global scale. Keenum serves as chair of the PUSH steering committee.
“Our universities have only scratched the surface of what research, extension education and teaching can contribute to the improved health, safety and security of millions of people, and open data – open information – is going to play an increasingly important role as we move forward,” Keenum said.
In addition to updating global leaders about collective university action to address world food security, Keenum also highlighted the role MSU plays in disseminating relevant agricultural research at the state, national and global levels. For nearly 50 years, the university’s Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station Seed Technology Laboratory researchers traveled throughout the nation and world to share their discoveries. MSU launched an online archive of approximately five decades of the university’s seed technology research this summer.
Keenum acknowledged that there are obstacles to overcome before open data become universal but said he was encouraged by the dialog and feedback he received during the GODAN summit.
“My hope – and that of my fellow presidents and chancellors in PUSH – is that this gathering of researchers and leaders from virtually every sector can launch a new way of thinking about data and that our universities will be role models in the way that we access – and especially in the way that we share – data,” Keenum said.
As a former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary and in his current role as MSU president, Keenum has dedicated a significant portion of his professional career to global food security issues. At USDA, Keenum was responsible for aid programs administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service and worked closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization and the U.N. World Food Program. Since coming to MSU in 2009, Keenum has worked to establish the university’s International Institute and formed partnerships with those two U.N. organizations.
Keenum currently serves as vice chairman of the board of the Foundation for Food & Agricultural Research and as a member of the Feed the Future Evaluation Oversight Committee, both of which examine what it will take to continue to feed a growing global population. At the closing plenary of the GODAN summit, Keenum was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, among other high-level officials.