World Food Day 2017

On World Food Day, agricultural experts and concerned citizens gathered at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis to discuss best practices for addressing hunger issues for more than 800 million people worldwide.

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Sagamore Senior Fellows Gina and Travis Sheets, who recently returned to Indiana after working alongside Liberian farmers for several years, were joined in the discussion by Nigerian smallholder farmer Monica Maigari. Together, they led government officials and nonprofit leaders through a discussion on underlying issues that have potential to change the landscape of international hunger. These include developing culturally relevant training and education for in-country workers, and communicating the connection between a county’s willingness to address women’s equality issues, such a landownership, and meaningful agricultural yields.

“Beyond standard aid and policy work, there also needs to be continued teaching in subtle ways to elevate women and give opportunities for their voices to be heard. For example, in the classroom where boys out number the girls, instructors can be encouraged to address the females first,” explained Gina, who served as director of Indiana’s Department of Agriculture in 2013.

In Liberia, the Sheets served on the teaching staff at Liberia International Christian College. During their tenure, they oversaw the development of the School of Agriculture and Liberia’s first agriculture research center and began to train the first generation of agricultural leaders. One of their goals is to increase agricultural outputs, whereby decreasing the country’s need for expensive food imports.

While the significance of agriculture in Indiana is widely known and reflected in the billions of dollars in annual sales, the conversation was a reminder of the varied contributions made by Hoosiers on the global platform.

A former primary school teacher, Maigarai turned to fulltime farming after becoming a widow with two children to support. She saw farming as an opportunity to meet immediate needs while encouraging others and investing in the future of her community. She knew the path toward self-sufficiency would be challenging.

“Most of the lands in a family are passed on to the male children. So a woman who intends to own a farm, she must be prepared to work hard to earn the money needed to acquire the land.”

With the prize money from Oxfam’s food hero competition, Maigari purchased the land she previously rented. She now employees up to 30 workers, and supports several local agricultural businesses and grain processors. “Now that I own my own land, these young people will have more work to do and more money in their pocket,” said Maigari.

During the conversation, both Sheets highlighted the significance of Maigari’s place in her community as a female landowner and small business leader. “What she has done is very courageous and important,” said Gina.

When asked if she had a message for U.S. policymakers, Maigari smiled and offered this invitation, “Come to my country and visit the rural farmers. See for yourself.”

“As we look to the next generation, I also encourage them to support policies that promote equal opportunities for female and male children, in all aspects of work.”

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