Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the need to confront world hunger. This is done, he said in a video message last December, by sharing “what we have in Christian charity with those who face numerous obstacles to satisfy such a basic need,” but also by promoting “an authentic cooperation with the poor so that through the fruits of their and our work they can live a dignified life.”
On a separate occasion, the Holy Father said the “scandal that millions of people suffer from hunger, must not paralyze us, but push each and every one of us to act: singles, families, communities, institutions, governments, to eliminate this injustice”.
One US company is working through various initiatives to address the continuing threat of world hunger with the use of science and education.
Founded in 1809 as a gunpowder mill by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, DuPont has become one of the largest chemical companies in the world.
Its mission, says executive vice president Jim Borel, “is to advance science in a way that can make a positive difference in people’s lives around the world.”
In an interview with ZENIT, Borel explained that DuPont seeks to put “science to work in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives,” in order to confront “the world’s biggest challenges.”
Borel spends most of his time, he said, on pursuing initiatives, aimed at sustaining the world’s growing population, through food security.
“We use lots of technologies,” he said, “everything from simple plant breeding to the most sophisticated tools available.”
One example is a newly-launched hybrid of corn that is resistant to drought. The product has already been introduced in France, and DuPont is working to also bring the technology to the sub-Saharan region of Africa.
The efforts of the company are geared toward helping “the plant produce more, and more quality, and more nutrition, with the same or less inputs.”
“If we can find a way to make corn yield more with less water, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Although the work of DuPont operates on a global level, Borel said that the best solutions are found locally.
“What works in a farmer’s field in Iowa, for instance, isn’t the same thing that is going to work in Ethiopia,” he said. “We have a lot of local research, adapting hybrids or products to work in local environments.”
Some of the challenges in promoting this work are found “in some of the developing countries where the infrastructure is not as advanced.” However, “a really important piece is not just the product, but the education and the advice that goes with it, so that they can get the most value from the product.”
For this reason, DuPont works with education initiatives to teach farmers to obtain a greater yield.
For instance, he explained, the company sponsors the 4H council, which is the largest youth development organization in the US. “They took on an initiative to find and support youth development organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. Through them, we sponsored a project to sponsor a leadership institute in five countries in Africa to train adults to work as volunteers with young people in a 4H experience.”
One education initiative – Enterprise Gardens – helps young people learn about agriculture, food and nutrition, business and enterprise.
A challenge being faced, he said, especially in Africa, “is that young people don’t want to go back to the farm because it’s a subsistence environment. It’s not a good situation. Often times, working in the field is punishment.”
“We found that at the beginning, before they had experience with Enterprise Garden project, less than a quarter of them were interested at all in agriculture. We found that after they went through this for a year, over three quarters said they would be open [to pursuing a career in agriculture].”
“Through education, we’re trying to train adults to facilitate these things, but then give them an opportunity – like Enterprise Gardens – to learn something practical that not only can help them raise their own food, but maybe help them see it differently.”
Holy See and dialogue
When asked about the role that the Holy See can play in helping to end hunger through technology, Borel said that dialogue was key.
“There are different views about technologies. Some people are concerned, others aren’t. But it’s good to talk about it because generally we find that if you have a dialogue, you can find a lot of common ground. One thing that’s great is if all sides would engage in a dialogue to look for solutions to a common goal of sustainably feeding people.”
“I think the Church could be very helpful in being another steady voice about objective use of science and tools that can help alleviate real challenges that we have,” he said. “There is a lot of human suffering.”