Interview with Prof. S M Abdul-Awal Professor of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering, Khulna University, Bangladesh and UC Berkeley, California

What was your intention to start the competition?  

Our university aims to create a knowledge-based just society and to generate a transformative educational experience for students, faculties, and researchers focusing on poverty eradication, food and nutritional security, environmental sustainability, socio-economic well-being and climate resilient development through judicious management of natural resources. One of the key aspects to achieve these visions is to development and exchange of new knowledge in collaboration with national and international organizations. In this regard, Khulna University signed a Memory of Understanding with Global Food Summit as this organization is involved to bring forward leading food research and transformation examples to encourage sociopolitical mind shift towards a circular urban food economy. As a part of this Memory of Understanding, we initiated Global Food Summit Idea and Research Competition-2020 in order to
i). encourage talented and motivated students to conduct research on livelihood development of the rural and urban people in order to achieve Sustainable Developmental Goal-2030
ii). improve the students’ idea generation, communication and presentation skills.
iii). foster creative learning, entrepreneurship and inquisitiveness among students, researchers and faculties and
iv). offer an opportunity to attend and present the idea/research at prestigious Global Food Summit held in Germany each year.

Due to its climate, Bangladesh has different prerequisites and challenges in food production than, for example, Germany. Which differences and the resulting problems most significantly influence innovations in Bangladesh along the food supply chain, in your opinion?

According to German watch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2009 Bangladesh is the most vulnerable country in the world. The manifestations of climate change are already apparent in Bangladesh in the form of extreme temperature, erratic rainfall, increased number of intensified floods, cyclones, droughts, prevalence of rough weather in the Bay. Over 35 million people live in the coastal belt of Bangladesh with elevations less than 10 meter above sea level and thus are particularly vulnerable to such climatic events. Climate change has been affecting and will continue to adversely affect the country’s agriculture, fisheries, and livestock as well as individuals’ health and livelihood. The required sustainable development of agriculture and the food system as a whole is threatened by a host of factors such as the degradation of ecosystems, the deterioration of soil and water productivity, the declining efficiency of pesticides, the lack of investments in machinery, and competition from global players. Against this backdrop, innovations and technological progress are needed to diversify the agricultural portfolio of the farmers, adopt new varieties of crops for improved yield and nutrition, simplify the supply chain to tackle post-harvest loss and use green energy for farm mechanization as well as resort to more judicious utilization of the country’s natural resources under the changing climate regime. 

Which issues regarding sustainability are primarily addressed by the research activities in Bangladesh?

The economy of Bangladesh is mainly based on agriculture, with two thirds of the population engaged directly or indirectly in agricultural activities. The impacts of climate change, such as extreme temperature, erratic weather, drought and salinity intrusion, are creating massive difficulties for farmers to continue their age old agricultural practices. Thus the main sustainability issues remain with how best can the cropping pattern be synchronized with the changing environment and how best can the country’s natural resources be judiciously used for various agricultural purposes without jeopardizing the livelihoods of different stakeholders who have different stakes on the same resources such as irrigation, navigation, fisheries and so on. Development of saline tolerant variety of crops for the southern and draught tolerant variety for the northern part of the country has remain top on the research agenda of the country while crop diversification, crop rotation, integrated agri-aqua farming system as well as land-scape based farming system are some other major research and sustainability issues the country is pursuing in recent years.

What is the selection procedure for the competition in Bangladesh that is now being initiated?

Life Science School, Khulna University is organising Global Food Summit Idea and Research Competition-2020 (GFSIRC-2020) this year to select students (undergraduate 3rd year to Ph.D.) who have got outstanding idea(s) on the thematic areas of Global Food Summit viz. AI in food and agriculture, recycling waste or circular food or agriculture. This year we aimed to include the students in the competition from the universities in south-western areas in Bangladesh. An invitation letter has been sent to the registrar of different universities like JUST, PUST, BSMRU, University of Barisal, Islamic University etc. to ensure their participation in the competition. More than 50 abstract/summary has been submitted by the students of different universities and among these participants, top twelve students would be selected based on their summary and presentation. A grand finale will be held on January 21, 2020 through which top three candidates would be selected based on their innovative ideas/research, presentation skills, question handling capacity, relevancy to the thematic areas and impact on livelihood development. A group of faculty members of Khulna University would act as judges in the whole selection processes.