Letícia Marques

What I’ve Done to Feed a Hungry Planet So Far

Letícia Marques is a Brazilian biotechnology graduate, and a former delegate at the 2017 Youth Ag Summit. Here, she shares how applying for the Summit gave her a blueprint for starting a career in food security.

“How do we feed a hungry planet?” This question has always made me think that producing more food wouldn’t be necessary, if we could make the most of the food we already grow. Food waste is a huge hindrance to sustainability in my home country, Brazil. A large part of nature’s effort in growing food – all the water, energy, soil and nutrients invested over time – goes to waste because of food losses.

That’s why, when I heard about the 2017 Youth Ag Summit in Brussels, I jumped at the opportunity to put forward my own ideas for fighting against this problem. A key issue in food waste is that many edible parts are not actually used, such as seeds, bagasse, bark and stalk. And these items are even richer in micronutrients than the parts of the vegetables that are traditionally used! This represents not only food going to the garbage unnecessarily, but also a very powerful weapon against malnutrition that is being neglected.

Letícia Marques is a Brazilian biotechnology graduate and a former delegate at the 2017 Youth Ag Summit
Letícia Marques is a Brazilian biotechnology graduate and a former delegate at the 2017 Youth Ag Summit
Letícia Marques is a Brazilian biotechnology graduate. A former delegate at the 2017 Youth Ag Summit, she now works in developing new technologies for food security at the Social Service of Industry in Brasília.

Upon my return to Brazil from Brussels, I graduated in Biotechnology from the University of Brasília and was soon hired to work in an institution called Social Service of Industry (SESI), where I‘ve been able to take part in two food security projects. The first, “Development of an innovative technology to promote healthy eating,” is based on the ideas from my original application to the 2017 Summit. At that time, I wrote about a system to transform the parts of vegetables that are normally thrown away into something people could consume, improving the nutritional quality of their meals. Now, I’ve been building on these ideas and, in partnership with Embrapa (the Brazilian Ministry for Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply), we are developing a process which will produce a final product that is nanostructured and freeze-dried to upgrade the intestinal absorption of fibers and nutrients present in the food. The project also has funding for lab exams to analyze the impact of the product on consumers’ health.

The other project I am involved is “The Intelligent School Vegetable Garden.” Financed by federal government funds and developed in one of SESI’s units to give professional support to young people who have suffered sexual abuse, selected students receive a scholarship to develop useful skills for the labor market. The Garden is a way to bring them into agriculture. We grow a variety of fresh produce: ranging from lettuce, arugula and cabbage, to herbs like sage, mint and oregano, as well fresh fruit such as strawberries, star fruit, oranges and avocados. We’re also developing research to test new kinds of sustainable pesticides using limonene, a substance extracted from citrus. This initiative helps to familiarize the young participants with scientific production, introduce them to biodiversity and improve their access to food, since participants are allowed to take home produce from the garden. The other school students can also “buy” the vegetables using a figurative coin that they gain based on their accomplishment on the program. Moreover, when students take part in the process of growing food, they tend to waste less food in their own meals.

“The Intelligent School Vegetable Garden” project
“The Intelligent School Vegetable Garden” project
Letícia and her organization have developed “The Intelligent School Vegetable Garden”, a project that allows children who were victims of abuse to grow their own produce, familiarizing them with agriculture and improving their access to food.

Besides all that, in alignment with my “3 Little Things” developed in Brussels, I’m part of the groups EmpreendedorAs (She Entrepreneurs, in Portuguese) and WEDO (Women’s Environment & Development Organization) where I give speeches to raise awareness of the importance of women in agriculture and how achieving food security can advance the Sustainable Development Goals. Another initiative I committed to as part of my “3 Little Things” was to teach consumer education at schools, which is the goal of the next project I am working to implement at SESI, which counts on a large educational network.

As you might have noticed, participating in the last Youth Ag Summit consolidated my professional goals and perspectives. It exposed me to local industry and helped me to secure employment immediately after leaving University. YAS 2019 is going to be in Brasilia, where you, the next delegates, will have the unique opportunity to share your ideas and contribute to the huge challenge of finding sustainable solutions for feeding a hungry planet. All you have to do is apply.

Good luck, and all the best from Brazil! Hope to see you all soon!

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