Lecturer to Discuss Potential Solutions to Global Food Insecurity

Published 09.08.2016


In a world that already faces food-insecurity issues and a strained agricultural production system, how will we feed an additional 2 billion people in the coming decades?

That’s one of the dilemmas to be posed by a former Bucknell University president during the opening edition of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s 2016-17 Colloquia Series. The presentation by Gary A. Sojka, which is free and open to the public, is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium on the college’s main campus in Williamsport.

Sojka’s talk – “Feeding the Future: Can We Nourish 9.7 Billion People in 2050?” – will aim to answer that question … and more: What decisions can we make today to help us meet the needs of tomorrow? Where do we focus our social and technological efforts? Just how many individuals can the environment sustain before the wheels fall off?

And, perhaps most important for the students more likely to survive into that not-so-distant year, why should they care?

Gary A. Sojka“This generation may not believe it, but its members can put away their cellphones and comfortably live out their lives. They can survive quite well without transport in a four-wheeled vehicle,” Sojka said. “But they can’t stop eating.”

That perpetual need for nourishment results in more demand for food as the population increases. And, as larger and more efficient means of production provide that sustenance, the population expands further.

It’s a pattern that has persisted for millennia, Sojka noted, punctuated with periods of widespread famine and mass starvation. In response, complex systems of production and procurement were developed – often with a huge carbon footprint and other serious environmental costs – and, yet, billions of the world’s people are still food-insecure, malnourished or even starving.

As if that were not sobering enough, the present population of approximately 7.25 billion is expected to grow to at least 9 billion people in the next few decades.

Sojka will tackle that tough topic and discuss new agricultural techniques; modes of approaching agriculture and aquaculture; and the social, political and ethical issues that will need to be confronted if our species is to survive.

“Agriculture is our biggest industry … with an enormous impact on our air, our oceans and our land,” the speaker said, noting such attendant issues as consumption of water and fossil fuels, soil loss, and the use of insecticides and fertilizers.

But Sojka’s will not be a gloom-and-doom sermon. There will be no mention of Armageddon, no childhood admonition to “Eat your green beans, there are people starving!”

“We already produce more food than we use,” he said. “There’s just a disconnect between its production and the people who consume it.” People, it seems, who quite literally do not know where their next meal will come from.

“We can feed all of the world’s people; we just haven’t figured out how. And pernicious governments and greedy individuals don’t help,” Sojka said, noting that national and international politics – as well as basic human decency – hold a major key to balancing the equation.

“If you have a pile of food ‘over here’ and people who need it ‘over there,’ we need to do a better job of sharing and looking after one another,” he said. “It’s going to require a fair amount of statecraft to make that happen.”

The speaker is a cum laude graduate of Coe College with master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University in biochemical genetics and microbiology. He has been a faculty member at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he also served as chairman of biology and dean of arts and sciences.

Sojka was the 13th president of Bucknell and president of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities. His service and membership span a multitude of higher education boards and commissions, including the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, as well as numerous professional organizations.

He and his wife, Sandy, are conservators of endangered livestock breeds in Snyder County, where they operate a farm specializing in sheep and poultry. (Sojka’s lecture will also explore the connection between his topic and the couple’s breeding of fat-tailed sheep, which he says “has left me up to my eyebrows in sustainable agriculture.”)

A question-and-answer period will follow the presentation in the auditorium; the conversation can also resume during the reception that will follow downstairs in the Wrapture dining unit.

Honoring Daniel J. Doyle, professor emeritus and Penn College’s 1984 Master Teacher, the Colloquia Series features presentations by noted authors and academics who challenge audiences to consider the impact of technology on society.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.