FAO and Mississippi State University Partnership

Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark Keenum speaks on partnership efforts to leverage science and innovation for a sustainable food-secure future

31/07/2023 - 

In partnership since 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Mississippi State University (MSU) continue to work together for a sustainable food-secure future. The partnership is leveraging science and innovation to forward the One Health Approach which sees an integrated, unifying plan that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems.

On June 26-27, 2023, MSU President Dr. Mark E. Keenum led an MSU delegation visit to FAO headquarters for the launch of MSU as an FAO Reference Centre on Antimicrobial Resistance and Aquaculture Biosecurity. MSU’s designation as an FAO Reference Centre builds on more than a decade of collaborations in planning and monitoring risk strategies on improved aquaculture biosecurity and antimicrobial resistance formed through joint research initiatives, the development of toolkits and applied methodologies. Additionally, MSU and FAO conducted a meeting on “Enhanced global land and water resources assessment for sustainable agriculture in a high-performing on-demand computing environment” to inform on the new joint initiative to develop global datasets on land cover, crop types and crop productivity. 

FAO speaks with Dr. Keenum:

Dr. Keenum, what makes the FAO-MSU partnership such a strategic and meaningful collaboration?

“It is particularly important for us at Mississippi State University to innovate and share knowledge to improve global agriculture sustainability. We are committed to expanding our multiple partnerships with the FAO–including our existing Global Center for Aquatic Food Security which is recognized as a Centre of Knowledge for Aquatic Animal Health and now our designation as a Reference Centre on Antimicrobial Resistance. MSU has a distinguished history of research and education to advance global development. We are well-positioned to be at the forefront of developments that can reduce hunger and help other nations improve their response to needs within their own borders. This expanded agreement with the FAO is another significant step forward in that process.”

Would you elaborate on the partnership’s efforts and impacts on leveraging science and innovation for a sustainable food-secure future?

“Since 1945, the United Nations through FAO has championed the noble goals of raising nutrition levels and standards of living throughout member countries. Those goals are fostered by improving the global knowledge base to spur increased production, distribution and safety of food. Those activities not only impact the scourge of world hunger, but also produce a more robust global economy that is a key building block of stable governments and peaceful domestic and foreign relations. MSU scientists and researchers have a proven record of effectively working with FAO and with FAO’s sister U.N. organization, the World Food Programme, in its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, reduce child mortality, ensure environmental sustainability and enhance development activities.”  

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, but significant challenges, including the impact of COVID-19, are hindering progress. Do you think the FAO-MSU partnership can help make the SDGs a reality? What new opportunities lie ahead?

“The lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic are many and varied. The pandemic taught everyone–from the world’s largest cities to the most isolated rural regions–what can happen when the global supply chain for food, fiber and fuel is interrupted and the economic impacts of those interruptions. Those lessons are magnified when economic impacts are likewise felt in the delivery of health care, educational opportunities, travel and access to services previously taken for granted. Likewise, we have learned the impact of war and civil unrest in Ukraine on both economic and humanitarian causes. The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals appear sound, thoughtful and forward-looking. These laudable action plans require the influence of the world’s research universities in their ongoing planning, implementation and monitoring. Shifting global geopolitical realities, emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and the cyber threats such technology inexorably spawns will make partnerships like the ones FAO and MSU have even more vital and relevant in the future. It's cliché, but knowledge truly is power in the battles we confront moving forward.”

Thank you, Dr. Keenum. To conclude, what do you see as the future of the FAO-MSU partnership? Is there anything else you would like to add?

“MSU is enormously proud of our relationship with FAO, the World Food Programme and the broader U.N. Our pride stems from our respect for these organizations and the hope and help they offer to a changing, often troubled planet. As a land-grant university, we share common concerns over a growing global population and the ability to sustain food, water, climate and energy responsibly and equitably for all mankind. I have great faith in our partners, as I have great faith in our scientists, researchers and students. Our university’s touchstone is “Taking Care of What Matters.” Our students have a fervent desire not just to hear lectures about solving the world’s challenges, they want to learn by doing, by experiencing and by helping–with their heads, their hearts and their hands–to be part of the meaningful solutions we seek along with our FAO partners. I see a great and important future ahead of us.”

About Dr. Mark E. Keenum 

Dr. Mark E. Keenum became MSU’s 19th president in 2009 following a distinguished public service career in Washington. An MSU alumnus with degrees in agricultural economics, Keenum served as Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2014, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and now serves as chairman. Dr. Keenum is immediate past chairman and former member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD). In 2014 and again in 2016, he was invited to speak at the U.N. in New York about the crucial roles public research universities play as the global community works to address critical challenges.