Texas A&M graduate student tackling global food challenges

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With no farm background, Jasmine Dillon credits her high school agriculture classes in getting a start in the study of food and fiber systems. Never did she think she would be part of a national student delegation seeking solutions to solving world food production issues.

Dillon, an animal breeding graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University, recently was selected to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ “Next Generation Delegation,” which includes the nation’s outstanding students who’ve made a commitment to feeding a growing world population.

As part the delegation, Dillon attended The Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C. She returned home with a host of ideas and concerns on how the world will meet future challenges of feeding an expected 9 billion people worldwide by 2050.

“I came back with a clearer idea about where we are headed,” she said. “First, there will always be challenges with finite resources such as land and water. The climate is changing.  It’s estimated that there are currently about 870 million people who are chronically hungry. It’s widely projected that there will be about 9 billion people and a 60 percent increase in global food demand by 2050, and there’s a growing middle class with growing demand for protein in their diets.

“Second, increased funding for agricultural research is needed. China has surpassed every country in the amount of money used to fund public agricultural research. Brazil has also rapidly expanded its agricultural research spending.”

Though not part of the selection criteria, Dillon’s selection was likely aided by the production of “Farmers Fight – Stand Up,” a YouTube video http://youtu.be/yFoGib8AfZo featuring a poem written by Dillon and produced by Wieghat Graphics.The video seeks to raise awareness of how agriculture plays a critical role in the daily lives of people  globally.

Dillon said one of the biggest “take aways” from the conference was the push for increased partnerships among non-governmental organizations, government and the private sector.

Her interests also expand into nutritional security.

“I like to think of it as helping the world feed itself, as opposed to simply feeding the world,” she said. “This could be done through continued agricultural development in areas such as Africa, India, and China. In order to do this, we need collaboration across disciplines, innovation in science and technology, and development of human capacity in these countries. Of course, after you leave, the country needs to be able to carry on independently with implementing the technology.”

Dillon said she has always enjoyed working with computers and recording data.

“I used to program graphing calculators as a kid,” she said. “I didn’t grow up on a ranch, but I’ve always loved animals. What I’m really becoming interested in is bioinformatics and mathematical modeling.  It’s something like a combination of the two.”

Her interest in agriculture began at Plano East High School after raising livestock through the FFA.

“I couldn’t have a dog, so I took a canine science course,” she said. “I later showed rabbits at the county show and eventually showed a goat and steer.”

She said if it weren’t for agriculture classes offered in high school, she would never have pursued collegiate studies in the field, especially not having grown up on a farm. After transferring to Texas A&M, she took a study abroad trip to Brazil and went to the International Meat Secretariat Regional Meat Conference.

“It was at the conference that I realized the magnitude of our world hunger problem and how I as an animal scientist was being trained to help address that problem,” she said.

Dillon, who will graduate with her master’s degree in December, is already considering pursuit of a doctoral degree. She’d like to focus on using modeling to develop livestock production systems in developing countries.

“Ultimately, I’d like to work with developing countries to build production systems that are sustainable whether it is cattle, sheep or other types of livestock.”



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