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Fighting food insecurity

MSHS student presents research at The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute

MARQUETTE — With over 780 million people chronically undernourished across the globe, international food security is “critical to ensuring the health and productivity of the world’s people,” according to the American Public Health Association.

Due to this, the “top high school students in the country and around the world” attended The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Iowa for three days during October to discuss global hunger and food security issues, according to a press release from The World Food Prize.

One of the 216 high school students from around the globe who were selected to attend was Marquette Senior High School sophomore Deirdre Riesterer.

She was the sole student delegate from the Upper Peninsula to the “prestigious youth education program,” which drew over 460 students and teachers from 10 countries and 26 U.S. states and territories, organizers said.

The program, which was created by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and Iowa businessman John Ruan in 1994, aims “to challenge and inspire participating student-teacher teams to identify ways of alleviating hunger, and to expose the students to opportunities and careers in food, agriculture and natural resource disciplines,” according to The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.

World Hunger Fighter Norma Jean Laube, left, and Marquette Senior High School student Deirdre Riesterer are pictured during The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute that was held in Iowa. Riesterer was one of 216 high school students from around the globe who was selected to attend and present original research at the institute. Laube is the daughter of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, the man credited with starting the “Green Revolution” in agriculture and saving over a billion lives with techniques he developed to increase crop productivity worldwide. (Photo courtesy of Michael Riesterer)

Riesterer wanted to participate because she believes food security is an increasingly vital issue that will need to be addressed by her generation, she said.

“I believe that it is my generation that will need to rise up to meet the challenge of feeding the world,” she said in an email. “By 2050 the Earth will have 10 billion mouths to feed. The most important aspect of advocating for change in how we produce food is educating those who will do it.”

To be considered for participation in the Global Youth Institute, students needed to identify a country of interest, research a topic impacting the global food system and propose “an evidence-based solution to improve the lives of families living within the country,” officials said. The students were selected to attend the Global Youth Institute “by presenting their solutions at a regional youth institute or through an at-large selection process,” according to program information.

For Riesterer, it was a major honor to be chosen, but it was also a little intimidating to consider representing Marquette at such a large and prestigious global forum, she said.

“Even though there were other Michigan delegates, I was the only one coming from the Upper Peninsula. It felt as though there was a lot of pressure on me to do as best I could and accurately represent my hometown,” she said.

During the three-day institute, students had the chance to share their original research papers and findings with international experts and peers; take part in roundtable discussions with experts in agriculture, technological innovation and international policy; tour research facilities and more, organizers said.

Riesterer’s research presentation was focused on agricultural sustainability in Costa Rica, she said.

“My school is actually doing an exchange with a Costa Rican school for Spanish, and I thought learning more about that country and the people who live there would be a good idea,” Riesterer said. “Actually presenting my ideas wasn’t that stressful for me. I spoke to a panel group composed of several other delegates and three World Hunger Fighters (including Norman Borlaug’s daughter). I was a little nervous, as I was speaking to highly intelligent and capable people, but I did my best and hopefully I made an impact. It was an honor to actually present in front of these people. I won’t forget this experience.”

One of the most important things Riesterer learned during the institute was “to take notice of the beauty and resilience of other cultures besides my own,” she said.

“It’s sometimes hard to push past the ‘Western Hero’ ideology where Americans tend to want to swoop in and mold everything in their image in order to ‘help’ those less fortunate,” Riesterer said. “It’s always important to take into consideration the kind of beliefs and practices a culture may have so that you can let them find ways to help themselves and be empowered to solve their own problems.”

Overall, Riesterer hopes to share what she’s learned with others, she said, as expanding knowledge about the issue and potential solutions will be key in the coming years.

“It will take all of us working together to solve the combined problems of feeding a growing global population with the added challenges of a rapidly changing global climate,” Riesterer said. “I honestly believe that if I can help educate my generation on the urgency of needing to make the changes to our current systems, that, with the technology and resources we have today, we will have the innovation and creativity we need to meet that challenge going forward.”

To learn more about the 2020 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute and how local high school students and educators can participate, visit www.worldfoodprize.org/youth.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.