14 Nov, 2017

NewsInternational conference leaves scholarship award winner optimistic for the “science of the future”

Erin J. Hopkins

At the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS), educating the next generation of scientists and researchers is a top priority. And as the Institute works toward its vision of creating ingenious science that delivers sustainable food security for the world, there are many opportunities where that education can occur.

This July, GIFS awarded a scholarship to University of Saskatchewan (U of S) student Erin Hopkins to travel to the Planting Seeds for the Future II conference, hosted by Nestlé in Lausanne, Switzerland. Nestlé is the world’s largest food company, and the conference was held to connect farmers, academics, industry representatives, NGOs and intergovernmental organisations to help answer the question: How can Nestlé help shape the future of food systems?

Students interested in competing for the scholarship were asked to submit a one-page essay addressing the topic: What is the role of a multi-national company in meeting global food security needs?

Erin, who earned a U of S Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 2014, was the successful candidate. Erin is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy under the supervision of Dr. Michael Nickerson, Associate Professor at the U of S. Dr. Nickerson is also Lead Researcher on a GIFS’ funded research project entitled: Development of innovative therapeutic food products for treating malnutrition and responding to emergencies within high risk communities.

After returning from Switzerland, Erin provided a review of her conference experience. GIFS wanted to capture her thoughts to share with others, and so the following is an extract from Erin’s review:

Was there any specific idea or concept about the future of food systems that sparked your interest in competing for the GIFS scholarship to attend the Planting Seeds for the Future II conference?

While my background is somewhat in agriculture, it tends to relate more to product end-use and development in comparison to the initial production. I applied for the GIFS scholarship because I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to get to meet people from across the world and discuss a global perspective on food security, especially those from industry. Also, because I’m primarily in an academic setting, I wanted to learn more about current research into food security and I felt that this was a good opportunity to get exposed to the work that was being done around the world in different areas/fields related to food security.

Overall, how did you find your experience?

My experience was overwhelmingly positive. The conference brought together speakers and minds from a variety of academic and industrial fields which was especially interesting. Not only did it illustrate the interconnectedness of the issues surrounding food security, but it also showed how work in these areas can perhaps be applied to other fields which they were previously not used in. I am so thankful to GIFS for sending me to Vevey to participate in this conference, and to Nestlé for hosting it.

Was there anything that surprised you about current food systems and the challenges we are facing in global food security?

One of the things that surprised me was the complexity of the issue of global food security, and the fact that the narrative is split into so many different paths for which there is no single solution. Also, that experts in the field seem divided about ways to reach solutions (for example, animal and plant proteins is still a hotly debated topic). There seemed to be a great sense of dread about the reality of what is happening in the world and how quickly we must act on the problem. However, overall I felt there was a much greater sense of optimism that these solutions can be reached if we work together to devise creative solutions.

What did you learn that makes you optimistic about our solving food security issues?

The first day of the conference had a strong focus on production, sustainability, and their importance to food security, and I really appreciated the discussion surrounding issues related to soils, technology, and possible improvements. There was such a wide variety of speakers and presenters from various industries, academic, and non-for-profits from around the globe that brought different perspectives on an issue that requires local input to solve global questions related to food security. The mandate of GIFS is to help solve this global issue. And they are bringing together the greatest research minds in the world to act upon the perspectives that were discussed at the conference; they are taking action to deliver sustainable food security for the world.

Erin J. Hopkins

Erin received a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture with Great Distinction in Food and Bioproduct Sciences in 2014, and is currently pursing a Doctor of Philosophy in the same area. She is the winner of various scholarships for academic achievement including the Harris and Lauretta and Raymond Earl Parr Scholarship, S.N. Horner Scholarship, and the Albert and Beatrice Trew Memorial Scholarship to name a few. She has also been the recipient of various awards such as the Molson Canada Award of Excellence for academic achievement from a convocating student, the Molson Book Prize for academic achievement in Food and Bioproduct Sciences and the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award.

As part of her Ph.D. research, Erin is currently studying the effects of enzyme treatments on low sodium bread properties and dough characteristics. Her undergraduate senior research thesis included a study of the mechanical and water vapour barrier properties of emulsion-based soy-protein edible films containing omega-3 rich flaxseed oil. As an undergraduate research assistant, Erin carried out surface charge and hydrophobicity measurements on pea protein isolates from different cultivars.

Erin also obtained industry experience working with Alliance Grain Traders conducting product development of pulse based food ingredients focusing on functionality testing and preparation of model food systems.