Princeton welcomes Mauritian president to explore challenges facing global food systems
Princeton University welcomed Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, president of Mauritius, on Oct. 5 for a day of discussion with students, faculty and staff about the state of global food systems.
“Biodiversity is the basis of life and central to human existence,” she said during an afternoon lecture in McCosh 50. “Over millennia, humans have depended on plant diversity, both wild and cultivated, to meet their needs. Biodiversity is a critical resource not only to address sustainable agriculture, but also for sustaining our ecosystems.”
Yet today the delicate balance of food ecosystems is under threat as the human population grows to an expected 9 billion people by 2050.
“Food production will need to increase at least by 50 percent and more in the populous parts of Africa and Asia,” she said. “Today, according to the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], over 812 million people go to bed hungry every day. Sadly, hunger amid plenty is the tragic leitmotif of our times.”
In addition to hunger, Gurib-Fakim noted that more than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, where their diets lack key vitamins and minerals necessary for growth and development and for fighting disease. Children, she said, bear a disproportionate share of the burden of malnutrition.
“Increasing the sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity in production and consumption systems will be an important part of the solution to the challenge of meeting future food and nutrition security," she said. "Conservation of biodiversity must span the entire spectrum of activities and locations, on-farm, off-farm, in seed banks, all the while drawing on the wealth of local, indigenous knowledge.”
During her visit, Gurib-Fakim also shared her message directly with President Christopher L. Eisgruber, who expressed his support for the University community to engage and explore the issues further.
She also met with students throughout the day, including juniors Jordan Salama and Dan Sullivan, who were inspired to take action.
“Meeting President Gurib-Fakim, a head of state, was truly a surreal experience for Dan and me,” said Salama. “As a result, we’re excited to explore a project documenting the fight against climate change in Mauritius itself and are currently in touch with the Mauritian embassy in Washington, D.C.”
Gurib-Fakim was hosted by Campus Dining as part of the Food and Agriculture Initiative, which explores global food and agriculture systems as a subject of critical inquiry and applied knowledge.
“We have embarked on a journey to try to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president, University Services. “Having an opportunity to meet with President Gurib-Fakim — to gain her unique perspective as a scientist, world leader and entrepreneur — is an invaluable experience. She is an inspiration to me, my colleagues and to the youth around the world.”
Along with Haneef, faculty members Daniel Rubenstein and David Wilcove, as well as Shana Weber, director of the Office of Sustainability, comprise the core team of the Food and Agriculture Initiative. Rubenstein is the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who also directs the Program in Environmental Studies. Wilcove is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute.