Fighting Poverty: A Life Science

CALS research hopes to make a difference in world poverty.

On the cover of this magazine are four broad issues that we consider central to the CALS cause: food, agriculture, health and the environment. But there is another theme that underlies all of these areas, one that we aren’t accustomed to considering as part of a science-oriented college. That issue is financial security

Without the means to sustain themselves economically, people cannot hope to have nutritious and sufficient food supplies, sound agriculture and a healthy environment. As a result, we too often witness global epidemics of poor nutrition and disease, where communities are plagued by environmental contamination that makes even a simple drink of water a life-threatening risk.

Unfortunately, this is the reality faced by hundreds of millions around the world. More than 1 billion people—one-sixth of our planet’s population—have less than $1 a day to feed, house and clothe their families. An estimated 300 to 400 million of those are chronically poor. Too many of our kind are trapped in this cycle of poverty, with little hope of realizing the basic stability that most of us take for granted.

In countries such as Peru, CALS is creating strategies that attack the constraints of poverty and pave a path to financial stability.

This is why I am so heartened by the work in CALS to study and combat global poverty. Our researchers are helping to identify the constraints that keep people in poverty, such as the vulnerability created when poor farmers have little access to financial instruments such as crop insurance—and thus no way to shelter their labors from disaster. In countries such as Peru, CALS is creating and testing strategies that attack those constraints and pave a path to financial stability. You can read more about this exciting project on page 10 of this issue—
if these small-scale experiments succeed, they can be replicated in other parts of the world as one way to begin to address the global scale of poverty.

We hope to build on projects such as these by creating a college-wide initiative to combat global poverty. This initiative would allow us to augment the many poverty-related research projects in CALS with new opportunities in teaching and learning, such as the creation of a global public health certificate for undergraduates. We know students have strong interest in this area, and a global health focus would help prepare them to contribute meaningfully to service-learning projects around the world.

This aim goes to the heart of our college’s mission. So much of what we do is dedicated to improving the lives of those around us. One sure way to build a better environment and a better life is to begin with a better livelihood.