Auburn Speaks
Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development

Auburn’s War on Hunger

Written by Harriet Giles

United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Academic Partner

The Challenge
In 2004 the College of Human Sciences at Auburn was invited by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to be its lead academic partner in a student War on Hunger campaign. At that time, we had only a slight familiarity with the lifesaving work of WFP, the largest humanitarian food agency in the world. Moreover, as a campus, hunger was not being addressed in any systematic, multi-disciplinary way. Few of us were educating students about the one billion people in developing countries who were experiencing chronic hunger; the fact that hunger kills more people annually than malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS combined; the plight of millions of American children going to bed hungry every night; and the paradoxical relationship between obesity and hunger.

Decision to Partner

Although we were honored by the invitation and agreed to the collaboration with WFP, we needed to resolve three critical issues before getting started. First, as educators who are habitually short on time and money, we faced the most basic question – can we justify spending scarce resources on a comprehensive programmatic agenda to fight hunger? Second, if we are going to be the lead academic partner in a global War on Hunger and develop a best practices model for higher education, what type of conceptual framework should inform the model? Third, how can we ensure that our hunger agenda fits with Auburn’s other institutional priorities?Auburn-UFWH-WFP-logo_r

The answer to the first question was simple–as a land-grant institution, meeting the basic needs of people in our state, nation, and world clearly was within our mission. In addition, after doing our own research and having numerous conversations with colleagues and hunger experts, we came to understand more fully that ending hunger is (1) a moral imperative of right and wrong, undergirded by humanitarian beliefs and committed to by all major faiths; (2) a domestic economic issue costing more than $150 billion annually in the Unites States; (3) a national security concern and a cause of political upheaval; and (4) a critical beacon of social injustice which tremendously impedes our progress in the overall pursuit of a sustainable world.

Addressing the issues posed in the second and third questions proved to be a little more challenging, but we found the answer to both embedded in the quest for a sustainable future. For almost two decades, sustainability has emerged as an over-arching principle that universities worldwide, including Auburn, are defining as central to their institutional missions. Historically, sustainability has most often been associated with environmental concerns, such as the energy crisis and global warming. Today, however, it is recognized that areas related to social and economic justice are equally important to achieving a sustainable world. Thus, human issues such as hunger and poverty, population control, health care, education, and access to markets should all be part of the evolution of any comprehensive sustainability paradigm for higher education.

In considering issues of human sustainability, it became apparent that the War on Hunger could be instrumental in helping our college and the university promote important institutional goals. The final decision, then, to focus on hunger at Auburn was multi-faceted, including moral, economic, and national security perspectives, as well as consistency with the university’s land-grant mission and commitment to sustainability.

Auburn Hunger Model

Given this rationale, we moved forward with the vision that Auburn will lead a global higher education movement focused on eradicating world hunger. Our mission is to be the catalyst mobilizing institutions worldwide to collaborate in the pursuit of both a grassroots student campaign and an academic agenda to end both domestic and global hunger. Our founding goal is to develop and implement a human sustainability agenda for students and faculty that encompasses (1) hunger awareness and consciousness-raising; (2) action and fundraising; (3) advocacy; and (4) academic initiatives, leading to a university community that is fully committed to and engaged in the effort to eliminate world hunger.

Auburn’s War on Hunger got underway in the spring and summer of 2004 with the “silent phase” of our campaign. The first step was to hold a series of student and faculty/administrator focus groups to determine the vision, mission, and goals for the campaign. It was during these initial focus group meetings that we became convinced more than ever that (1) our focus had to be multi-disciplinary in nature; (2) both domestic and global hunger must be addressed; (3) we needed to ensure representation from both the academic side of the university and the student affairs side; and (4) the campaign’s student leaders should be actively supported by a team of strong faculty and/or organization advisors to provide continuity for the initiative over time.

Following the focus group meetings in spring and early summer, our first task was to form a student leadership group composed of one representative from each of Auburn’s schools, colleges, and major student organizations. The group became known as the Committee of 19 (C19), symbolic of the 19 cents a day needed in 2004 by WFP to feed a school child in the developing world. The C19 is responsible for the short-term, grassroots part of the campaign, and over the past decade they have undertaken many initiatives, including the following:
• sponsored Auburn’s annual Hunger Awareness Week with participation from all sectors of campus;
• given leadership to the Why Care? Campaign sponsored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN World Food Programme on World Food Day 2012 and 2013;
• partnered with the Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology (SIFAT) to enable C10 members and other students activists to better understand major causes of world hunger and malnutrition and to become familiar with specific appropriate technologies that can be used to combat both issues;
• assisted with the establishment of a Campus Kitchen, which utilizes student volunteers to reclaim leftover food from university dining facilities for use in preparing nutritious meals for low-resourced individuals and families in the community and on campus;
• worked with the Office of Student Affairs to create a Campus Food Pantry serving students, faculty, and staff at Auburn who are working hard but not quite able to make ends meet, sometimes referred to as the “hidden hungry”;
• collected thousands and thousands of pounds of food and dollars to support the East Alabama Food Bank and WFP;
• marched 60 miles to the State capitol in Montgomery to build political will to end hunger;
• and been honored every year for 10 years in front of 85,000 fans at a home football game for its work promoting Auburn’s War on Hunger.

In addition to the grassroots efforts, Auburn faculty led an academic initiatives committee to pursue longer-term strategies through the teaching, research, and outreach missions of the university. With regard to academic outcomes, Auburn has approved a hunger studies minor open to all students on campus, regardless of their majors. The introductory course is delivered in the classroom as well as via distance education, and the capstone course has offered students unique opportunities to study hunger at higher levels using advanced technology (see article in this issue of Auburn Speaks by Kate Thornton and Dan Henry). Two WFP senior advisors were sequentially assigned to Auburn University for five years, helping to teach the introductory and capstone courses, facilitating research collaborations, connecting with other universities, and placing interns worldwide, as well as strengthening Auburn’s relationship throughout WFP.

Universities Fighting World Hunger

Gen2End2Over the past 10 years, the Auburn hunger model has been presented at a number of professional meetings and invited lectures in locations including Washington, D.C.; New York City; Rome, Italy; Jamshedpur, India; Osaka, Japan; and Dalian, China. At the first national presentation in 2005, there was such enthusiastic interest voiced by administrators from a dozen or more universities that it sparked a sense of urgency for us to plan the first U.S. Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit, which was held in February 2006 at Auburn with 29 universities represented. Out of that meeting came the unanimous decision to develop a loose network of institutions coalescing under the banner of Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH), to be implemented not as an official organization, but as a movement encouraging all institutions of higher education to participate. UFWH had its national launch at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on World Food Day 2006. Since that time, our coalition has rapidly grown to include almost 300 institutions from all across the United State and on virtually every continent. After a series of summits in the U.S., the sixth Annual Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit was held at the University of Guelph (Ontario), Canada, and the next year at Universidad Nacional de Agriculura in Catacamas (Olancho), Honduras. Last year a consortium of Kansas universities hosted the 2013 summit, and in 2014 the UFWH summit will once again come back to Auburn in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the partnership between Auburn and WFP.

The Mandate

It is to be expected going forward, as we engage universities around the world in very different cultural contexts, that we will encounter a wide range of approaches that will be used to address issues of local and global hunger. It is difficult for outsiders to predict what will work in one academic environment versus another. Those are strategies that we in our respective institutions must determine.

What does seem clear, however, is that it is past time for academics on university campuses to step forward and take our place at the table with other enlightened advocates, to develop a collaborative strategy that will take advantage of the wide array of talent represented at our institutions. We have been on the sideline too long. Must we lose our objectivity if we decide it is time to bring our talent and forces to eliminate world hunger, this most dire condition facing humanity? One of our most esteemed colleagues, the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, got it right when he said “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.” We of the academy need to listen and learn from our students, who are increasingly confident that they can tackle these seemingly insurmountable problems. It is time that universities work together, to use our knowledge and skills, our discoveries and best practices, to confront these grand challenges that must be addressed to save lives and enhance quality of life both at home and in the developing world.

So how have we been preparing to move forward with the War on Hunger? Our latest step on campus has been the establishment of the Hunger Solutions Institute (HSI) to officially carve out Auburn’s position in the hunger community. Now we are searching for like-minded partners in the public and private sectors who share our passion for ending world hunger, who want to be part of charting the course to free multitudes from starvation or other serious outcomes of malnutrition.

Together with the UN World Food Programme and other partners, we will continue to integrate a dynamic grassroots campaign with a robust academic agenda to address one of the most critical of all human sustainability issues. As a result of our commitment to bold and decisive action, not only do we envision collectively feeding millions of hungry people, but through active involvement in UFWH, we hope to transform the lives of students around the world for generations to come.

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