According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 10.2% of households in the US were food insecure at some point during 2021. That means approximately 33 million people, in the US alone, were unsure of where their next meal would come from at least once during the year. The UN reports estimates that between 691 and 783 million people were food insecure, internationally, at least once during 2022. What can we do to decrease those numbers and render food insecurity a problem of the past? What kind of work would it take to address food insecurity on a global scale?
This is why the UN established the Food and Agriculture Organization. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s purpose is to lead international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security globally. As part of its efforts to address food insecurity, the Food and Agriculture Organization established World Food Day in 1979 – an international day of recognition brings together researchers from a variety of industries to present solutions to food insecurity
One of the leaders in the efforts to address food insecurity is WEST’s own Kellye Eversole. Kellye is an expert in agricultural genomics and has dedicated over 22 years of her career to collaborating with international organizations to determine the genetic sequence of a variety of plants and animals that provide food for people around the world. She began consulting on agricultural biotechnology in 1991 and by 1994, she began working on plant genome sequencing with the National Corn Growers Association. In that effort, she worked with a Missouri Senator to secure funding for a new program to sequence agronomically important plant genomes. Following work on the maize (corn) genome, she helped develop a US plant-associated microbe sequencing program and in 2001, launched an international consortium to sequence livestock, poultry, and companion animals’ genomes.
While working on obtaining animal genome sequences, she was by growers asked to establish an international consortium to sequence the wheat genome. Initial conversations with scientists revealed that many believed it to be impossible to do. “I love to be told it’s impossible,” Kellye says of the challenge.
In 2004, Kellye used her experience to create an international consortium for the sequencing of the wheat genome. Wheat is the most widely grown crop in the world. It also has a genome five times the size of the human genome, which renders the work enormously challenging. Nevertheless, the challenge was overcome and the wheat genome was fully sequenced in 2018. It required bringing the international agricultural community together. The final publication in Science included 200 authors from 73 countries and was hailed as a tremendous success, not only in the scientific community but also in the mainstream press, such as WIRED, The Atlantic and the LA Times.
The genome sequencing of food and feed products allows for the creation of products that are drought and disease resistant, high yield, and can be adapted to non-traditional growing climates. “You can’t recreate the soil in Iowa everywhere,” she shares, but to “the greatest extent possible, there are a lot of things we can do to have fresh food.”
“Our vision, which is dear to me, for the past 32 years has been to give the farmer the scientific knowledge and then the tools to be sustainable and profitable to ensure that they can produce enough to fill the need,” Kellye says.
Kellye grew up on a wheat, cotton, cattle, and horse farm, in a small community. She knows what it’s like to have great and poor growing years. These are the roots that shaped her experience as she stepped out of her rural community.
In 1978, she worked on a political campaign for a senator from Oklahoma. When the senator won, she was offered a six week internship that blossomed into her making her own opportunities and eventually managing all things agriculture for the senator. She saw her first bill get passed into law at just 22 years old.
Kellye’s passion for agriculture is driven by her love of supporting the global community, particularly those that are food insecure. This is why World Food Day means so much to her. She constantly remembers that 700M+ people are food insecure. She knows that by creating food and feed products that can support the needs of all people, regardless of demographic, socioeconomic status, or any other circumstances, she is working to make the world a better place. She believes that the lack of availability of food products that are adapting to industry changes and political issues should be no reason for anyone to experience food insecurity. “You create thriving humans through food. People can’t reach their full potential without having enough food. We should never rob anyone of the opportunity to fulfill their potential,” Kellye says.
This is exactly what Kellye loves about the WEST community. “There is support for women at the earliest stages of their careers. They can develop leadership and management skills through WEST workshops, panel discussions, and networking events.” She shares that WEST giving opportunities for professional development for women in a traditionally male dominated industry, helping them to fulfill their potential, is one of the main reasons she continues to support and grow within the WEST community.
With Kellye’s experience, she knows what it’s like to be just starting out, and what it takes to “make it” in your career. “It’s hard to look at just the last 30+ years of my career in consulting and agricultural science alone, because I wouldn’t have had those opportunities without having really put the work in during my 12 years in government.” She adds that “Success is about seizing opportunities. If you feel as though there are no opportunities, you have no hope and as humans we have to have hope. Having those chances means you can move beyond yourself. You can find your passions and seize your opportunities to truly fulfill your potential.” That’s what WEST provides to women in the STEM community, and is what Kellye loves about WEST.
Outside of her work in agricultural science and her role on the WEST Board of Directors, Kellye is engaged in her local NAACP organization, is on her town’s diversity committee, and serves on several other nonprofit and company boards. She is an avid reader and is part of several book clubs, some of which focus on Ethiopian and African literature, and another that features both fiction and nonfiction works focusing on the WWII era. She is also involved in amateur radio and loves learning about and supporting emergency communications.