For Adegbola Adesogan, a major research university in the Subtropics provides the perfect setting for his life’s work: figuring out how to feed a hot and crowded world
Nature is tormenting Nepal’s farmers. Droughts are lingering. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas are causing rivers to flood. Monsoon season — once a reliable June and July phenomenon — has shifted to late summer. Making matters worse, Nepal’s population is expected to swell from 29 million now to more than 36 million in 2050, the United Nations reports.
Soon, it will be impossible for that nation to grow enough rice, corn and wheat to feed itself. Nepal isn’t alone. Civilization is tumbling into a global food crisis. In the decades ahead, according to the U.N., people in some of the world’s poorest regions will be dealt severe shortages. There simply won’t be enough food to go around.
That troubles Adegbola Adesogan. And it’s the reason he uprooted his wife and daughter, now a UF student, to move from the University of Wales to the University of Florida in 2001.
“The thought that our research could literally save lives motivates me,” says Adesogan, an animal nutrition professor. “I came to UF because the Florida climate is similar to those of many developing countries. This allows us to develop scientific solutions to problems limiting agricultural productivity and proper nutrition in many parts of the developing world.”
The Nigerian-born scientist, who was educated at the University of Reading in the U.K., directs the UF-managed international Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, an alliance of 24 universities and research institutions. The coalition is working with impoverished communities in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Nepal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to make sure families in those places can be fed now and later.
Enter cows, goats and chickens. When raised wisely in local smallholder groups — using new location-appropriate technologies, improving management practices and skills, introducing higher-quality livestock and fostering environment-friendly policies — meat, milk and eggs enrich nutrition and livelihoods. There’s another benefit, too, Adesogan says: Good protein sources help prevent stunting and under-nutrition, which can impair brain development and accounts for about 45 percent of child deaths worldwide.
Adesogan’s work is showing promise. When the coalition added a small amount of animal-source foods to the diets of schoolchildren in one of its partner communities, the children’s growth, cognitive development, leadership skills and test scores improved. Those results and other UF research make Adesogan optimistic that a food crises — if addressed now — can be averted.
“The threat is real, but it will become worse if we don’t act,” he says, citing a new United Nations report noting that each year the global population grows by about 83 million — roughly the size of Germany — and that by 2050 there will be nearly 10 billion people on Earth.
“Food shortages will be worst in some African and Asian countries unless appropriate steps are taken to prevent the problem,” he says. “Famine is already a constant threat. This year, millions of people in northern Africa and the Middle East have been facing starvation in what is called the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.”
The solution, Adesogan says, could be discovered and developed at the University of Florida.
“Many lessons learned from Florida livestock production systems can be used to solve livestock production problems in tropical and subtropical countries across the world,” he says.