My first “webinar” on topic close to my heart: Food and nutrition security

by Steven Navon Schonberger 

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to join a "webinar" discussion on food security hosted by the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition. For those as technologically out of date as myself, a webinar is a virtual seminar in which the speakers are streamed by internet to a broader audience which can send in comments and questions in real time to the moderator. For a regional economist used to the familiar meeting rooms and conference halls in developing and developed countries, debating issues in front of TV cameras was quite a challenge. First of all, the webinar was held in a TV studio in Milan, which is an instant recipe for stage fright. Trying to concentrate on your response while the moderator subtly gestures to look at the camera with the red light on is harder than it sounds. Secondly, the moderator and other panellists were top notch, creating painful flashbacks of university seminars so many years ago. The host of the Webinar was Alex Thompson, a TV anchor and war correspondent (he was just back from Basra) from Channel 4 news in the U.K., and the co-panellists were David Dawe of FAO - a true expert on price formation and policy; and Professor Andrea Boltho of Oxford University - a well known macro-economist. Finally, unbeknownst to David and I, Alex and Professor Boltho had decided to "spice up" this edition of the Webinar by throwing in some leading questions and seeding disagreement - what fun!

Bottom line: I will not be looking to take over Oprah's talk show job.

But seriously, the webinar was a chance to emphasize IFAD's message that supporting smallholder farmers is critical to addressing food security and nutrition challenges in the world. It was good to see that most of the audience felt that the biggest issue is grappling with the impact of an ever growing population on a resource constrained planet and that issues of food security are highly compelling symptoms of this broader challenge. There also seems to have been interest in Professor Boltho's proposal to tax junk food. Overall, it seems that things did not come out as badly as I thought (I have not had the guts to watch it yet) - my name is still on the office door at IFAD. If you'd like to watch the webinar or learn more about the Barilla Centre, make sure you check out their website.