When food insecurity, poverty conflicts with education

Jan Garrison

CGA junior offers possible solution


January 7, 2021

Parents on the small African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe often need to make a choice: send their children to school or make them work in the fields.

While there are laws requiring children under the age of 15 to attend school and barring them from working, they are not enforced for economic reasons. Statistics show 22.6% must do so to help their families survive. Another 24.9% work when they are not in school. With 60% of the country’s population falling below the $3.20 per day poverty rate, it is a matter of simple survival.

When Culver Girls Academy junior Maya Jyothinagaram (Forsyth, Illinois) decided to research the reasons behind child labor on the tiny island off the west coast of Africa, she found several factors affecting this problem. She also promoted a solution that would allow the students to both grow their own food and go to school at the same time.

She presented her findings during the virtual World Food Prize Youth Institute hosted by Purdue University in early May. Jyothinagaram and senior Sophia Arnold (Valparaiso, Indiana), were selected to represent Indiana at the virtual Borlaug Dialogue and Global Youth Institute in October. The Global Youth Institute involves 200 high school students while the Borlaug Dialogue brings together 1,500 experts from 60 countries to discuss world hunger and food security issues.

Jyothinagaram’s presentation focused on how the food security, poverty level, and child labor problems on São Tomé and Príncipe are linked. She pointed out the majority of the child labor problems are tied to work involving the growing, processing, or selling of food.

Her suggestion was that São Tomé and Príncipe “find the intersection of education and agriculture” by instituting a program similar to those used in Ethiopia and Vietnam. Those programs teach students how to use sustainable plants and animal husbandry to address their needs. Chief among those would be hydroponic agriculture.

The students would learn to grow food, which could be used for school lunches, and learn sustainable agricultural practices at the same time. Jyothinagaram’s presentation points out that this solution solves a variety of problems by ensuring the students are educated and fed at the same time. It also alleviates the burden on international food agencies that are currently supplying school lunches for the children.

Since everything was virtual, the Global Youth Institute lasted two weeks, with each student presenting on a specific day. After each presentation, the youth delegates would discuss possible improvements and actions that could be taken. Many of those ideas are being compiled into a paper that will be presented at the 2021 Food Systems Summit at the United Nations, she said, “which is really exciting.”

The youth delegates also attended the Bourlag Dialogue. “There were speakers on different food systems, agricultural innovations, and the importance of quick actions in regard to environmental problems,” Jyothinagaram explained.

“The conference really showed me how incredible so many people are and how many amazing ideas are out there,” she said. “My largest takeaway was the urgency of our current situation. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, billions of people don’t have access to reliable food systems, and there is a long way to go in improving food systems for both the short-term and long-term.”

The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Norman E. Borlaug, Ph.D., who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing several new strains of wheat and other grains that were draught and disease resistant. He was credited with saving 100 million people from starvation. Using his prize money from the Nobel Prize and other resources, he created the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, with Iowa businessman/philanthropist John Ruan III ’61. In 1990, Ruan assumed sponsorship and established The World Food Prize Foundation.

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