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One More Mountain to Climb

In December of 2003, Dr. June Henton and her colleagues launched "Auburn's War on Hunger," in partnership with the UN World Food Programme. Soon after, the program launched a higher education movement throughout the country and world, known as Universities Fighting World Hunger.

Dr. June HentonDr. June Henton is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security. 

Who would believe that after more than 25 years as a Human Sciences dean at Auburn University that I could still be inspired by one more mountain to climb? In December of 2003, I found myself inspired to take on one of the biggest challenges the world faces still today - how to work towards solving the problem of hunger on a global scale. It all came about when a friend who was consulting with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) asked if I we might be interested in working with them on a Student War on Hunger Campaign being developed by WFP.

On a personal level, my colleagues and I were very concerned about world hunger, but we knew that a personal passion for the issue was not enough. The partnership with WFP came about out of a university task force on sustainability. As students at the meeting talked about sustainability, they seemed to know all about environmental issues – global warming, green buildings, climate change, and recycling. But I heard nothing about the human issues affecting sustainability, such as hunger and poverty, education and healthcare, overpopulation, and access to markets. So we started “Auburn’s War on Hunger,” which opened up that dialogue, framing hunger as a critical sustainability issue and launching a higher education movement that has subsequently spread throughout the world under the banner of Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH).

Our model for UFWH includes a grassroots component (including hunger awareness and consciousness-raising, fundraising, and advocacy) and academic initiatives (including teaching, research, and outreach). To date, more than 300 institutions of higher education have come together under the banner of Universities Fighting World Hunger. The model addresses both domestic and global hunger, and it serves to reinforce other current institutional priorities of globalization, diversity, service learning, sustainability, research, and knowledge sharing. It operates under the premise that every academic discipline has a role to play in the fight against hunger, and it brings universities together in unprecedented collective action to take their place at the table with other activists and experts in the hunger community.

Eight years later, we have engaged higher education institutions of all kinds - public and private universities, land-grants and Ivy Leagues, community colleges and technical schools - all joining UFWH. I can measure progress from both the number and diversity of participants at our annual summits, including our national launch held at Georgetown University in 2006 through our most recent summit held this March at Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Honduras. UFWH grassroots initiatives, like the Why Care Campaign,World Food Day 2012, and record-breaking food packaging events, are happening all over the country and around the world.  We are also working to end hunger closer to home, helping to convene statewide efforts. The Kansas and North Carolina hunger dialogues are bringing together students and faculty with public and private sector partners in a model that we hope will be replicated nationally.

So what is our next challenge? If we are going to stay ahead of the hunger curve, we need to accelerate the pace of our progress. We must feed the millions of hungry people in our own country, respond to the plight of the one billion people face hunger worldwide, and meet the future food security challenge as the world population grows to nine billion people by 2050. To address these issues, last February Auburn University established the Hunger Solutions Institute to connect people on the frontlines of hunger with ideas that work. The Institute’s first major initiative is currently underway and focuses on Ending Child Hunger in Alabama. 

To reach the ultimate peak of eradicating hunger, we must scale up with a network of partners who are as committed as we are to finishing the climb. When we combine the passion and energy of informed students with the knowledge and talent at universities all over the world, the outcome will be helping millions of hungry people and impacting the lives of students around the world for generations to come.

Dr. June Henton is Professor and Dean of the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University in Alabama