Background - 03.05.2024 - 14:30 

Global Essay Competition winner Funke Aderonmu on Confronting Food Scarcity with Agricultural Policies

On 2 May, Oluwafunmike "Funke" Aderonmu from Princeton University was named the winner of the Global Essay Competition at the 53rd St. Gallen Symposium. An interview with student reporter Victoria Lorenzen.
Funke Aderonmu receives 1st prize in the Global Essay Competition from HSG professor and jury member Prof Dr Heike Bruch.

Her essay on repurposing U.S. agricultural subsidies to combat food scarcity and limit the negative effects of agriculture on climate change. In an interview, she shares about her personal connection to this topic, her thoughts on global collaboration in agriculture and her experience as a "Leader of Tomorrow".

When did you first hear about the St.Gallen Symposium as well as the Global Essay Competition? What motivated you to participate in the competition?

I heard about it on an email newsletter called Opportunity Desk. I was really intrigued by the essay theme regarding the idea of confronting scarcity and how we confront increasing pressures that threaten to make so many of our valuable resources scarce. I was drawn to the ideas around what solutions we can envision that enable us as a global society to preserve and manage our resources. Furthermore, I thought it was a very relevant and pertinent question for a lot of the issues we are facing today.

In your essay you write about repurposing U.S. agricultural subsidies to bolster food security and climate resilience. How did you become aware of this problem? What is your personal connection to this topic?

I first became exposed to issues of food insecurity and hunger in the U.S. through an internship I did working with a local food bank during my undergraduate studies in California. Through that internship, I learned about the drivers of hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. and became interested in the role of policies in shaping food security. Even though the U.S. is a large producer of agricultural products and there is enough food produce to feed everyone, people still face insecurity with regards to food because of how the food system is designed in ways that reflect economic inequalities, particularly for people with low incomes who often lack affordable food options. This highlighted the importance of combining agricultural technology and production to produce enough food for the population with the right types of policies aiming to reduce inequalities and improve access and affordability of food. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I completed a yearlong fellowship working on hunger issues. Later as a young professional, I was a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). There, I became involved working on global food security issues and learned about the links between climate change, agriculture, and subsidies. How does agriculture contribute to worsening climate change, which in turn can worsen food security? I guess it is a spiral or vicious cycle of having both the feedback effects of climate change and of the current farm subsidies and farming practices that exacerbate climate change and how all that contributes to threatening longer-term food security in the world.

In your essay, you propose three reforms for the U.S. agricultural subsidies: Investing in agricultural research and development, increasing conservation funding as a larger share of subsidies, and supporting sustainable, climate-smart agriculture. In addition, you also ask for broader agricultural subsidy reforms across the world. Could you share your thoughts on the importance of international collaboration in agricultural policy reform, and what you envision for the future of such collaboration?

I see that international collaboration is highly important and critical for reforming farm and agricultural subsidies globally because so much of agricultural subsidies really impacts the global food trade. That in turn can impact people's access to food and food security. Especially for major food exporting countries like the U.S., agricultural subsidies can create unfair competition with local agriculture and farmers in other countries. Particularly for developing countries, this can be harmful for their local agriculture sectors. Trying to find that balance between countries ensuring to build up their agriculture sectors and feed their populations while being able to engage in trade to fill out agricultural needs without harming other industries is important, especially for developing countries. How do we make sure that these agricultural subsidies globally are not harming that type of development and food security, especially of some of the poorest countries in the world? An example of an area for international collaboration is the World Trade Organization (WTO) which regulates and supports trade between countries. The WTO has an agreement on agriculture which includes a measure for member countries to reduce their spending on subsidies that distort trade and global food prices. The purpose of this agreement is to get more countries to reduce the amount of these subsidies that are called Amber Box subsidies. The ongoing negotiations about how much countries should reduce their spending on Amber Box subsidies presents an opportunity for more international collaboration.

How do you intend to further pursue the problem of agricultural subsidies and food scarcity in the US?

I'm hoping to work in the international development sector and particularly focus on helping to promote inclusive growth in developing countries after completing my master’s degree. I have a particular interest in Africa due to my own personal heritage originally being born in Nigeria but having grown up in the U.S. In lots of different African countries, agriculture is still a major source of livelihoods, and employment is tied to food security. I'm hoping to work at the intersection of inclusive economic development and advancing food security in my career.

As the winner of the Global Essay Competition, you will also receive a monetary prize. Are you planning to invest it in "Confronting Scarcity"?

I’m hoping to do two things. First, I'm hoping to donate some of the prize money to an organization called RESULTS Education Fund that I had the opportunity to intern with while I was a young professional a few years back. It is a global advocacy organization that pushes for policy changes in the U.S. and with international institutions like the World Bank. It really advocates for those governments and institutions to develop and devise policies that reduce poverty and make sure that they reduce inequality and power indifferences between countries. Policymaking plays a big role in addressing issues of global food security and I want to help support organizations like RESULTS Education Fund in their work of advocating for policy changes to reduce poverty and promote food security around the world.

Second, I hope to also donate to a humanitarian relief organization that provides more immediate food aid and food security relief. One of the acute drivers of food insecurity in our current moment right now is really conflict. We've seen across the world how conflicts right now, whether it's in Sudan or in Gaza, are creating immense food shortages. I think it is also important to provide immediate relief in addition to supporting the global advocacy and long-term policy changes that need to happen to make our food system more sustainable and secure in the future.

What are you looking forward to at the St. Gallen Symposium?

I'm eager to hear from both young and experienced leaders about how they are approaching the challenges of scarcity. And I'm excited to connect with likeminded peers and fellow leaders of tomorrow who are striving to make positive change in the world and in their communities. I feel that this will be a great learning and connection opportunity to really engage with others and share my passions and interests. Additionally, I'm really excited about the touristic program and the opportunity to learn about Swiss culture, traditions, and history as well. This is my first time visiting Switzerland. I'm excited to explore what the country has to offer.

Do you have any advice for other young people who would like to contribute to the generational exchange themselves?

Fitting to the essay competition, I would encourage other young people to write and to look for opportunities to write and ensure that their ideas are spread. No opportunity is too small, whether it's at your local school newspaper or writing a blog. Just the act of writing really helps you think deeply and clarify the ideas you want to share with the world. It's also a great way to spark conversations with others as they respond your ideas. That can help facilitate intergenerational exchange and collaboration. I also encourage people to write with other people such as peers or teachers as it is a great opportunity to learn how to work together and understand the insights and perspectives that each person brings. That helps you grow and become much better at engaging in any forms of exchanges, whether it's intergenerational or cross cultural.

Victoria Lorenzen studies Banking and Finance and International Management at the University of St.Gallen.

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