01 Aug International Opportunities in Food Security: Lessons from the Peace Corps and Beyond
by Jim Adriance
Previous Employment: Oregon Community Foundation, Care Oregon, Peace Corps
In my 20’s, while working for a masters degree in agricultural economics and wrestling with equations, datasets, and a thesis I started grappling with trickier questions that would take me beyond my all-nighters studying in College Park Maryland! A couple of questions that led me to join the U.S. Peace Corps seeking answers were how could so many people be starving in the world when we in the U.S. have so much?; and what was our wealthy country doing about that?!
Working with farmers in the fields and in countless planning meetings in rural Costa Rica I saw how poverty is relative – the farmers who owned the small farms earned more than the landless laborers who actually worked the land. In the ensuing 22 years working as part of the U.S. foreign assistance effort in Latin America I also learned there are big differences in wealth and access to good food between and within countries, even in a small region like Central America. In Costa Rica most people have enough to eat while in Guatemala almost half the population suffers from malnutrition, and indigenous women and children in rural areas suffer the most.
A critical response to challenges related to hunger, distribution of wealth, and how one country assists another is for people to join together and make a commitment to become part of a solution. This works in rural villages, urban slums, and in any community determined to do something – this is exactly what ISB has done in Project Feed1010 (PF)! In PF a talented, curious, optimistic and determined network of teachers, students, and scientists have come together to learn and teach about solutions to our collective challenge of feeding the whole human family. And using aquaponics as a vehicle, PF is changing the orientation of science education to one where students are active protagonists in their learning and science has practical applications to current social problems.
As PF expands to more and more schools in the U.S. I’m also excited about how PF will take the project to developing countries. Here’s an interesting article about aquaponics in Bangladesh that illustrates some of the cultural, ecological and other issues PF will likely encounter internationally. “Aquaculture Meets Agriculture on Bangladesh’s Low-Lying Coast”. As, and perhaps more, important than the technical aspects of international development are the cross-cultural understanding and communication between the people involved. The U.S. Peace Corps wrote a workbook for people facing cross-cultural living, working and communication challenges in a country other than their own. “Culture Matters” is based on the experiences of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers who worked in over 140 countries. It’s a practical guide for navigating aspects of another culture we often take for granted like: the perception of time; attitudes about tradition, change and risk taking; gender roles; concepts of fate, destiny, and equality; attitudes towards work and family; and views of the natural world.
For young people considering working internationally during their careers early experiences like Peace Corps and other programs that give you the chance to live and work side by side with people in other countries can help you build a foundation so over your lifetime you can contribute your professional skills anywhere in the world.