BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A 16-year old Holy Trinity Catholic student rubbed elbows with some of the brightest agriculture minds in the world as part of the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines last week.
Junior Wyatt Hellman attended the event on an invitation after submitting a paper on water scarcity issues in Algeria on the African continent.
His paper focused on several ways the Algerians could increase water supply including desalination, which can potentially turn sea water into potable water, but requires a lot of energy. Algeria sits on the Mediterranean Sea to its north, but has desert climates in the center and south regions.
“They don’t have much water and it’s made worse by infrastructural issues and the large amount that goes toward agriculture,” Hellman said. ” Another issue they have is they are very successful compared to most African countries because the oil and gas reserves are in that country. That’s the only industry, so when that market dips, the whole country dips. To solve that economic issue, you have to solve the water problem.”
He said he proposed in his paper that the country invest in technology that makes farming systems more water efficient. He said the proportion of water used in farming and the food that farming produces is off because farming doesn’t produce near enough food to feed the country.
“With more efficient farming irrigation systems, you could switch some of the water usage back over to the people and that would be one way to help solve the problem,” he said.
But Hellman said the real solution is going to result in a combination of many improvements including shoring up a leaky water supply system, fixing infrastructure, improving agricultural usage efficiency, and then incorporating such technologies as hydroponic and aeroponic crops that don’t require as much water.
He said he applied and was accepted at the state level of the World Food Prize events, which is a one-day event at Iowa State University. Both invitations came from Hellman’s efforts on his research paper. He said he had to expand a little to be accepted at the Global Youth Initiative, which concides with World Hunger Day, typically in October.
More than 300 students were invited to the Des Moines event, where the $250,000 World Food Prize ceremony takes place. It was a three-day event and Hellman was the only student from HTC to make the trip and the first to go in many years, he said.
The event also included small group sessions with world ag leaders. Hellman’s group included Dr. Laura Merrick of Iowa State University, Professor Linus Opara, of the International Horticulture Congress, and Dr. Li Chemin of the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Science.
He said in the small groups the leaders led discussions on how the students’ papers and propositions could be expanded and cultivated into deeper thoughts on solutions.
“My favorite part after the small groups was meeting everyone from across the world,” he said. “This is the fist year I’ve been to the Global Youth Institute. Now having attended that, I have the opportunity to attend the Borlaug Ruan Institute, which is an opportunity for 24 or 25 kids that attended the Global Youth Institute. I’m in the process of applying for that internship now, which is two months at a research facility outside the U.S. That would be an awesome opportunity.”
Hellman, who admits to not having any firm plans outside of high school, said the experience has now muddied up that process even more.
“Most of the students there were looking at careers in agriculture. I don’t have any firm plans,” he said. “This whole thing threw a wrench into it. I didn’t have any particular interest in agriculture when I went, but now it has me maybe reconsidering a career in agriculture. Kind of made me think about things all over again.”
He said the students in Des Moines represented 27 different states and 10 countries. Seventy of the students were from Iowa.