MA Student Works with Foreign Agricultural Service at Milan EXPO 2015

MA Student Works with Foreign Agricultural Service at Milan EXPO 2015
USA Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015

Caleb Johnson recently returned from a three-month internship with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy. Caleb’s internship coincided with the Milan EXPO 2015. Expo 2015’s theme is food security and sustainability and the expo is a way for countries throughout the world to show how they are implementing sustainable agricultural practices. It is projected that by the year 2050, there will be 9 billion people inhabiting the earth and facing increased risks such as the effects of climate change and the increased scarcity of agricultural land. Milan EXPO 2015 is meant to be a dialogue about what can be done to increase food output in the wake of these numerous challenges. 

Caleb’s main duty while in Italy was to assist in the logistics coordination for a visit by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas J. Vilsack, to the USA Pavilion at EXPO. Sec. Vilsack was leading a presidential delegation to EXPO in order to celebrate the 4th of July. As part of his activities, FAS, working in partnership with the U.S. Sustainability Alliance and the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy, organized an event called “This is How We Grow” to show the world how the United States is becoming more sustainable in its agricultural practices. 

Sustainability is a term with many different meanings around the world, particularly in regards to agriculture. Whereas the United States emphasizes that sustainability is a process involving numerous factors including farming methods such as cover crops and no-till, Italy views sustainability as synonymous with organic agriculture. Pesticide reduction is crucial, but this does not mean that farming practices are to be altered. While organic agriculture is important in the United States, it is not always the most important factor in sustainable agriculture. “This is How We Grow” was a means of showing how the United States is successfully implementing sustainable practices in a variety of food and agriculture sectors, from soybean farming to Alaskan fisheries. All of the presentations by the speakers can be found here.

Caleb found the many innovative techniques the USDA is implementing in order to create a more efficient process of climate-smart agriculture fascinating. “Sec. Vilsack said that in the next 35 years the world must implement the same amount of innovative practices and technological advances within agriculture as there has been in the past 10,000 years. That is something that continues to stick with me after my entire internship experience.” Caleb’s favorite example of climate-smart agriculture that Sec. Vilsack spoke about was fog collection as a means of relieving the ongoing drought conditions in California.

With his internship now over and as he concludes his final semester at George Mason University, Caleb mentioned two takeaways from his time in Rome that continue to stay with him in addition to the Secretary’s remarks about agricultural innovation. “It really bothers me now when I see food waste” he explained. “It might sound a bit cliché, but whenever I have a big meal I think about those who would do anything to eat this meal so I always make sure to clean my plate and let none of it go to waste.” His other takeaway: agricultural politics is a very complicated matter and he respects and appreciates all who put the time and effort into it. “It may not be my cup of tea, but I admire the diplomats and their staff who put the extra effort into negotiating agricultural agreements worldwide.”