Auburn has long history of ending hunger with Nobel Peace Prize recipient World Food Programme

Published: October 13, 2020
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The Norwegian Nobel Committee this month awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme, or WFP, for its work ending hunger around the world. Auburn University, also on the front lines in the fight against hunger, shares a storied history with the WFP that spans 16 years of groundbreaking partnership.

“The recognition of the World Food Programme and Auburn University’s shared commitment to ending world hunger is a testament to the mission of the College of Human Sciences,” said Dean Susan Hubbard, “to address quality of life issues worldwide in the face of a global crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In late 2003, the College of Human Sciences accepted an invitation from the United Nations’ WFP to be its lead academic partner in a newly launched War on Hunger student campaign. Although the campaign began in the college, it quickly expanded to all parts of campus. By World Food Day 2006, the partnership led to the launch of Universities Fighting World Hunger, or UFWH.

UFWH was the first, and only, partnership WFP had with an academic institution. The motivation was to create a coalition of students that raises awareness of global hunger, promotes grassroots fundraising, engages in practical solutions and dedicates academic study to hunger-related issues.

Former WFP senior advisor Douglas Coutts spent four years in Auburn building the UFWH profile with faculty and staff. He would later share Auburn’s blueprint with universities around the globe. Even after his retirement from WFP, Coutts continues to serve Auburn as a Hunger Solutions Institute senior advisor and a faculty member in International Programs.

“We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish UFWH’s success without Auburn. WFP needed to invest in future generations who will be voters and leaders,” Coutts said. “We now have a cohort of students coming out of colleges and universities across the world, students who are graduating and going forth as engineers, architects, any particular degree, who understand that global hunger is not an insurmountable problem and we have all the tools in our hands to solve it. That’s how hunger will be solved; around the table.”

Coutts worked with Auburn faculty to create the hunger studies minor, an addendum applicable to any major that weaves a primary course of study with lessons on hunger, water and sustainability, among others. The capstone course of the minor program’s inaugural year led to the creation of Auburn’s Campus Kitchens, which packages meals from unserved food in Auburn’s dining halls and delivers them to those in need.

June Henton, dean emerita of the College of Human Sciences, reflecting on her first meeting with WFP nearly two decades ago, said it was a “privilege” to serve the Auburn community, nation and world in so many effective, collaborative ways.

“On behalf of Universities Fighting World Hunger, I want to congratulate Executive Director David Beasley and all current and former World Food Programme personnel on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a highly coveted award that not only honors WFP, but provides a window into the tragedy of global hunger for all the world to see,” Henton said. “We at Auburn feel privileged to have been a partner with WFP for almost two decades in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.”

Since the creation of UFWH, Auburn’s efforts have served as a framework for nearly 300 college and university chapters around the world. The model combines the hunger studies minor and the Auburn-pioneered Committee of 19, in which a student and faculty member from each school and college pursue an agenda to tackle food insecurity. The name came from the then-19 cents a day required by WFP to feed a hungry school child in the developing world.

Longtime Hunger Solutions Institute managing director and faculty emerita Harriet Giles was there when the Committee of 19, now the UFWH|Flagship Chapter, was recognized with the official launch of the Auburn War on Hunger in 2004. She said it was invigorating to see the mobilization of students on a global scale working to eradicate one of the world’s most pressing issues.

She called the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to WFP “such a timely and incredibly well-deserved recognition of the lifesaving work this organization does on a daily basis to rescue millions upon millions of people from starvation and the devastating effects of acute and chronic malnutrition.

“Under the visionary leadership of Dean Henton, Auburn was given great latitude to create a comprehensive human sustainability hunger model, composed of student grassroots activism and an academic agenda based on the tri-partite land-grant mission of teaching, research and service.”

The College of Human Sciences and Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station at Auburn established the Hunger Solutions Institute in 2012 to further the university’s nationally recognized efforts in food security. Using UFWH’s foundation of collaboration, HSI created its first outreach initiative, End Child Hunger in Alabama, or ECHA, a movement to address child food insecurity in the state, in 2013. Soon after, HSI developed Presidents United to Solve Hunger, or PUSH, which holds higher education leadership to a commitment to promote hunger studies and activism on their campuses.

The PUSH pledge now holds signatures from 110 institutions of higher education, and ECHA recently released the County Food Guide, a project in conjunction with its local partners around the state to direct those in need to food resources in their area. HSI managing director Alicia Powers said the Auburn-WFP partnership was the impetus for all the life-changing work HSI has done since its inception.

“The partnership between the World Food Programme and Universities Fighting World Hunger provided a strong foundation for the launch and success of the Hunger Solutions Institute,” Powers said. “HSI’s continued partnership with WFP, along with many other international and national leaders fighting to end hunger, will allow HSI to further expand the reach and impact of UFWH, ECHA and PUSH.”

Hubbard said WFP’s well-deserved honor is an encouragement to the ongoing efforts to end hunger everywhere, of which Auburn is uniquely positioned to advance.

“It’s been an honor to witness the launch and be on the front lines of the Auburn War on Hunger. WFP's recognition affirms that our decision to partner and lead this effort among all universities was and continues to be a catalyst for improving quality of life for all,” Hubbard said. “In the College of Human Sciences, we continue to move forward in addressing food insecurity. We want to not only educate and inspire the next generation, but also bring forth the resources to stop the devasting effects of hunger, whether it’s across the globe or right here on our campus.”

As stated by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, WFP was awarded the Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

For more information on UFWH, visit http://wp.auburn.edu/ufwh/.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.