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New Cornell cohort enters global food security conversation

What do a Catholic priest, three vegan advocates and a Ugandan farmer have in common? They are part of a diverse, international group of 25 newly graduated Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows who will soon return home to 10 countries, taking with them a new set of communication tools to contribute to local policy debates on agricultural technology and food security.

Designed to empower emerging communications leaders, the fellowship program is at the core of the Cornell Alliance for Science, an initiative for science-based agricultural communications supported in 2014 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Fellows hail from Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Indonesia and the United States.

“As members of the alliance, we believe that scientists should have access to all the tools, such as genetic engineering, that they need to innovate, and that farmers and consumers should be able to choose what they want to grow or what they want to eat,” said Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, at the graduation reception Nov. 12. “I hope we have flamed the ‘fire in your bellies’ for driving our mission forward as key champions in our global network.”

Annalyn Lopez, a program development officer in the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s biotech program, says that until participating in this program, it was hard to see the impact of her policy work in such a contentious field. “Because of this course, I developed a deep appreciation for communicating about biotechnology and for the work it does to advocate for farmers and scientists,” Lopez said.

“Mostly we have brilliant scientists, but they fail at making the public aware of their work,” Lopez explained. She says this course has been invaluable, adding that although she has worked with the Department of Agriculture for nearly 10 years, her background is in public administration, not science. “My perspective is that if even I can understand and explain it to other people, then that makes me a more valuable science communicator.”

In remarks delivered as the cohort-nominated graduation speaker, fellow Iro Suleiman, who hails from Nigeria, said: “Having lived and trained together, sharing all the common human norms and values, we vow to continue to work together, pursuing common goals and objectives, building our alliances from ground up, supporting each other. The Alliance for Science gave us the most priceless gift of knowledge, skills and expertise necessary to do better jobs engaging as science communicators.”

Suleiman continued: “We are now poised to offer farmers wider choices, new pathways to enable them to rediscover themselves, to harness their inert abilities, to unleash their productive capacities, which by and large will improve their earnings and better livelihoods. We fervently believe, whenever the history of biotech is going to be written, many chapters will capture this turning point when the world decided to come together once more to unequivocally demonstrate selfless commitment to reduction in poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity.”

Suleiman will return to his work as a public relations officer at the Institute for Agricultural Research at Ahmadu Bello University.

The program’s final event will take place Nov. 17, when fellows will share their stories at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The event, “25 Stories: Allied to End World Hunger,” will be co-hosted by the Alliance for Science and a number of U.N. delegations.

Rebecca Harrison ’14 is social media specialist with International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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John Carberry