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Crop scientist Cedric Habiyaremye highlights global food security challenge amid pandemic

Portrait of Cedric
Cedric Habiyaremye, WSU research associate, leads projects on crop diversity and nutrition in Africa as part of the Sustainable Seed Systems Lab (Photo credit: Jay Reed/NPR).

Cedric Habiyaremye, a research associate and alumnus with the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, shared challenges and opportunities facing international food security due to the COVID-19 pandemic, speaking with global news organizations this spring.

At WSU, Habiyaremye leads and facilitates research collaborations with farmers in Africa to find ways to improve crop diversity and nutrition.

In April, he was interviewed for the Forbes story, “COVID-19 Is Expected To Be A Key Driver Of Acute Food Insecurity,” examining how existing food crises will worsen, particularly for rural people in poorer countries.

COVID-19 will double the number of people suffering from food crises, increasing to 265 million according to an estimate by the United Nations World Food Programme.

Interviewed by BBC World News, the crop scientist stressed that food security during the pandemic must be viewed “through the lens of public health and nutrition, rather than producing more calories.” Noting challenges in crop diversity, Habiyareme mentioned his work in introducing nutritious quinoa in Africa, and talked about how plant scientists and breeders are working on ways to stop devastating pests.

Contributing to Al Jazeera, Habiyaremye wrote “A pandemic-driven food crisis in Africa can be prevented,” an opinion piece.

Unless speedy measures are taken to support the global food supply chain, he stated, low-income countries in Africa and south Asia will see rapid increases in hunger. That in turn increases vulnerability to disease. Countries should focus on maintaining the market flow of agricultural inputs, food, and feed.

“The protection of food security is inseparable from actions to protect the health, family welfare, commerce and other sectors,” Habiyaremye wrote. “It must be urgently integrated into all COVID-19 planning and policy.

‚ÄúThis an opportunity to reflect on the transformation needed if we want to develop a food system that nourishes all people, regenerates, and sustains the environment, and enables the resilience and flourishing of culture and community,” he told Forbes.

Habiyaremye’s work is supported by the Global Participatory Quinoa Research Fund, which helps WSU’s Sustainable Seed Systems Lab and collaborating farmers develop regionally-adapted quinoa varieties high in protein and minerals.