Oak talks expertise

On November 4, Colby’s Center for the Humanities, the Environmental Studies Program, and the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights welcomed Gloria Otieno, an economist and food policy expert. Otieno is currently working at Bioversity International, which, according to their website, is “a global research-for-development organization,” and delivers “scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural and tree biodiversity.” Otieno is stationed in the nonprofit’s regional office in Kampala, Uganda, as an associate expert in genetic resources and food security policy. Otieno  holds a MSc in Agricultural Economics and rural development and recently completed her PhD in Development Economics

The presentation, which was held in Diamond 122, was widely attended by students and professors from many disciplines, as well as some local members of the Waterville community.

The talk is one of the Oak Institute’s annual series of events, which focuses on the Oak fellow’s primary area of advocacy. This year, the theme is food security, with Jodi Koberinski serving as the 2015 Oak Fellow. Koberinski works both in Canada and around the world advocating for improved agriculture and food systems.

Otieno discussed the threat of population growth, a rise in omnivores, and high producers of ethanol to global food security. She also focused much of her talk on the high importance of access to good quality seed and seed security. With huge corporations like Monsanto, which is a publicly traded multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company, spreading genetically modified organisms and seeds throughout the world, the existence of organic and non modified seeds are being threatened on a large scale. 

Uganda, where Otieno is based, presents a unique situation for the work of Bioversity International. GMOs were banned in the country until a bill in May passed allowing genetically modified foods. The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is the subject of significant critiscm as Ugandans debate the future of farming. Only 26 countries have banned GMOs, even though most nations do not consider GMOs to be safe.  Otieno said that there are 20,000 different species of crops, but a majority of crops being grown today are genetically modified wheat, rice, corn and soybeans.  This market saturation of GMOs offer fewer opportunities for small scale farmers in Uganda. These local farmers are being written out of the market, as they can’t afford to buy seeds. Otieno proposes the creation of a community seed bank designed to conserve seeds and linking the program to indigenous people.

Wes Zebrowski ’18, who attended the talk, told the Echo “I am happy that food sovereignty and food security are being because of the significance of these issues in Maine and on our campus.”    

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