Empowering a New Generation of Farmers at Home and Abroad

Dr. Govind KannanDr. Govind Kannan is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security. 

Through a community outreach program during the second year of my veterinary medical studies at the Madras Veterinary College in India, I developed a keen interest in helping rural farmers in need of technical support to improve the sustainability of their animal agricultural enterprises. During a subsequent Master’s Program in Veterinary Science, through my focus on meat hygiene, I appreciated the importance of a nutritious diet on human health and its effect on the learning abilities of children and the earning potential of adults. The negative impact of malnutrition and lack of clean water on rural, low-income communities was eye-opening to me. 

After completing my PhD degree and while pursuing an academic career in the United States, a different kind of challenge facing global food security became apparent to me. Young people are shying away from careers in agriculture, even in families that have been involved in farming for generations. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average age of an American farmer in 1945 was 39, while the average age of today’s farmers is about 58. In agricultural disciplines, the number of graduates produced nationally is low, particularly for minority students and this is a serious concern. Future students of agriculture have the awesome responsibility of increasing food production to meet the demands of a growing world population while integrating production, socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental objectives to promote agricultural sustainability. 

This is why I have dedicated my entire career to educating minority and underprivileged students and conducting applied research and outreach to empower small, limited resource, and underrepresented farmers with the knowledge and technical skills needed to sustain successful agricultural enterprises. I strongly feel that the sustainability of small farms is the key to revitalizing rural communities and strengthening food security worldwide. Thus, I played a lead role in establishing a research consortium of 1890 land-grant institutions focused on integrated, low-input plant-animal farming systems to promote economic stability and environmental stewardship on limited resource farms. These low-input, relatively simple technologies are applicable to smallholder farms in rural regions in both the U.S. and throughout the world. 

As Dean of the College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology at Fort Valley State University (FVSU), one of the two land-grant universities in the state of Georgia, I have placed much greater emphasis on the College’s global outreach activities. As a result, our international collaborations have increased tremendously, with growing numbers of FVSU scientists traveling to other countries to conduct training programs, and scientists, students, producers, and government officials from various countries in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe visiting the University’s Small Ruminant Research Center to learn about sustainable goat and sheep production methods every year. One recent trip took us to Ethiopia to conduct a training program on meat quality analysis and food safety principles in small ruminants. FVSU is also the lead institution in the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control, a group established about 10 years ago, comprised of researchers, extension specialists, veterinarians, and farmers from around the world. The Consortium’s mission is to develop novel biological, non-chemical methods for sustainable control of internal parasites in sheep and goats, and to educate those involved in the small ruminant industry. 

On our campus, we have many talented and resourceful scientists, cooperative extension specialists and agents, and teaching professionals whose laboratories, field plots, and classrooms are actively exploring contemporary issues in agriculture and food production. Our ultimate goal is to improve the livelihood of limited resource farmers locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

Dr. Govind Kannan is the Dean of the College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology at Fort Valley State University (FVSU) in Georgia

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