Business & Society

Planting Roots of Peace: Guest Shares a Message of Healing and Food Security

By Lynnette Harris |

Heidi Kühn (left), 2023 World Food Prize laureate and founder of Roots of Peace, headlined USU's Food Security and Solutions Symposium where USU President Elizabeth Cantwell, right, signed the university's recommitment to the Presidents United to Solve Hunger Initiative. (Photo Credit: USU/Bronson Teichert)

In her recent keynote presentation at Utah State University’s Food Security and Solutions Symposium, 2023 World Food Prize Laureate Heidi Kühn told how the non-profit she founded, Roots of Peace, has worked for over 25 years to support clearing landmines and restoring agriculture to former conflict zones. She also challenged attendees to get involved in hunger solutions close to home and abroad because individuals can make a difference in big and small ways.

Roots of Peace funds the safe removal of landmines and other unexploded tools of war, then trains local people in vital agricultural techniques to improve land for food production. The organization provides growers with native and well-adapted plant material and opportunities to sell what they grow.

Though her career as a television journalist put her in unusual situations, Kühn’s plans for her life did not include suiting up in protective gear to walk alongside people searching for and removing landmines or learning about crops that can feed people in specific regions. She didn’t expect to help people around the world find markets where they can sell some of the food they grow to support their families. She didn’t envision meeting world leaders or working alongside people in places with names that evoke war and destruction: Afghanistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq, Cambodia, Vietnam, Angola, and the Holy Land, among others.

But Kühn also hadn’t expected to battle cancer in her early 30s and promise God that if she lived she would do something special with her life.

Seeing news coverage of Princess Diana’s visit to Angola to raise awareness about landmines inspired Kühn to see that something special she could do in the world was to help rid the world of the “cancer” of landmines.

“At the time, more than 25,000 people were killed or injured each year by landmines, many of them civilians and children,” Kühn said.

Roots of Peace began in the Kühn family’s home in northern California. It was a small endeavor at first, but she raised enough money with donations from several vintners in the area to fund demining work in Afghanistan. With the advice of scientists at the University of California Davis, Roots of Peace provided technical assistance and plants to develop vineyards of grapes that are native or well-adapted to the region. Since that time, the organization has supported planting and caring for seven million fruit trees in Afghanistan in addition to many vineyards.

Breaking Ground: From Landmines to Grapevines, Kühn’s call to action/memoir, begins with the true story of three children whose families were repatriated to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s, shortly after the Balkan Wars. As she tells it, the children were happy to be home and ran into a field of beautiful spring flowers to pick some for their mothers. One little girl stepped on a landmine, and her two little best friends ran to help her, detonating more.

Learning about the incident was the turning point for Kühn, and Roots of Peace quickly outgrew her family’s living room.

In addition to minefields and other unexploded tools of war, people in many former conflict zones are also left with widespread food insecurity and diminished economic opportunities. Seeing that need prompted Roots of Peace to educate growers about selling their produce to larger markets. There’s now black pepper on the market that is grown and harvested in Vietnam and has a tiny Roots of Peach logo on its label.

“This is about the earth, the soil, and the soul,” Kühn said. “Demining the soil is demining the soul and not leaving it void. It's planting the roots of peace…in a world today where there are an estimated 110 million landmines in 60 countries. Think about that for a moment. One-third of our planet is riddled with these seeds of destruction that are deliberately planted.”

She noted that it takes just eight pounds of pressure to detonate a landmine, the average weight of a newborn child. And despite some governments adhering to agreements to stop using landmines, the practice continues. Current estimates are that 30% of land in Ukraine is mined, primarily in the eastern part of the country. Land that once fed people there and in much of West Africa, she added.

Kühn added that current conflicts in the Middle East point out the need for ongoing efforts to feed and protect the lives of innocent people.

“They need us right now,” she said. “We need to feed people. We need to find again the seeds we have in common, not only within our own country, and nurture those seeds everywhere and find a new pathway because, in my very humble opinion, we have lost our moral compass in this world. … You know, we're talking about engineering solutions, agricultural economics, business, but we're forgetting the poverty of the human spirit, and it's epidemic. It's not just in this country, it's around the world and our children are watching.”

She noted that Roots of Peace currently operates in Guatemala, helping people improve the soil and successfully grow coffee coupled with macadamia nuts and shaded by avocado trees, multiplying the harvest of each acre. The organization provides plants and training to set up demonstration farms and sell high-value crops to support impoverished families and give them greater opportunities at home.

They have helped launch hundreds of farms in the area, which feed people and family economies, getting at what Kühn said are two of the root causes of out-migration.

“You know, this (Roots of Peace) had a very humble beginning, and I want to emphasize that to all of the students here,” Kühn said. “When you don't think you can make a difference think again, because it begins with taking footsteps for peace. Now it’s spring, and it's time to plant. We will reap what we sow.”

Presidents United to Solve Hunger

Addressing food insecurity at USU, university President Elizabeth Cantwell joined the symposium to recommit to the Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) initiative. The initiative pledges its signatories to work collectively to work to end hunger on campuses, communities, and nations. That may include supporting innovative research to grow, process, and transport food locally and globally.

It also includes directly helping the one in three college students nationally who report they experience periods of food insecurity, which means having inadequate access to sufficient nutritious food. On USU’s Logan campus, that includes support for the Student Nutrition Access Center, a food pantry that serves students and others in the USU community.

Cantwell noted that the opportunity to recommit USU to the PUSH initiative means the goals are one her mind and she is interested in seeing USU fulfill its role as part of the initiative.

The USU Food Security and Solutions Symposium, which also featured student research presentations on hunger problems and possible solutions was sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, the Center for Anticipatory Intelligence, the Heravi Peace Institute, and the Hunger Solutions Institute at USU.

WRITER

Lynnette Harris
Marketing and Communications
College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences
435-764-6936
lynnette.harris@usu.edu

CONTACT

Rose Judd-Murray
Assistant Professor
Applied Sciences, Technology & Education
435-512-4706
rose.juddmurray@usu.edu


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