What can help America with North Korea? One answer is agriculture

What can help America with North Korea? One answer is agriculture
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As President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE prepares for his anticipated meeting with the North Korean ruler, there is one individual in addition to the secretary of State that the president would be well served to have with him for these talks. This person does not serve in any U.S. foreign affairs agency. Indeed, he passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. Rather, he represents the remarkable power of agriculture to promote peace.

Sunday marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of Norman Borlaug, the Iowa-born plant breeder whose “miracle wheat” saved millions from famine and death and lead to his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. It made Borlaug a humanitarian hero in Mexico, India and dozens of countries across the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as in China, where his portrait is enshrined at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

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Lauded as the “father of the Green Revolution” and the man “who has saved more lives than any other person that has ever lived,” Borlaug’s statue stands in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol right next to Rosa Parks. On the front of the base of his statue are replicas of his Nobel medal, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. There are only three Americans to have ever received those three highest awards: Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, and Borlaug, the farm boy from Howard County in northeast Iowa.

Most significantly, Borlaug’s legacy of confronting hunger and alleviating human suffering can bring people and countries together across even the widest chasms of political, religious, ethnic or diplomatic differences. This was evident when he was bringing his high yielding, disease resistant new wheat varieties to Pakistan and India in the 1960s. His legacy continues to evokes a spirit of peaceful cooperation as has been demonstrated again and again each October in Des Moines at the presentation of the World Food Prize, the award that Borlaug created and which has been referred to by world leaders as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

In 1959, the power of Iowa agriculture to ameliorate international differences was most dramatically demonstrated during the “most dangerous period in all human history,” when U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons were poised to be fired. That year, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the farm of Roswell Garst in western Iowa. The two men bonded during their inspection of Garst’s corn, when the Soviet leader lamented about why they couldn’t produce corn like this on farms in Russia. For the next two decades, Garst’s nephew John Chrystal traveled between Coon Rapids and Moscow as an unofficial but highly influential “ambassador” of American agriculture.

While he never discussed anything about the number or capabilities of nuclear weapons, Chrystal did demonstrate that it was possible to have some modicum of understanding and cooperation between our two countries. Garst and Chrystal and their Soviet counterparts built in a buffer that contributed significantly to those weapons of mass destruction never being fired.

So during any talks with the North Korean ruler, President Trump may find a moment when he sees the possibility to make a gesture or to take a step, not on the nuclear weapons themselves, but to set the stage. The World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, the repository of Borlaug’s legacy is ready to play a role, if the president would find it helpful. For example, he could invite a North Korean agricultural scientist, perhaps joined by a South Korean scientist, to our Borlaug Dialogue Symposium this fall, with more than 1,000 other experts from over 40 countries.

In addition, our foundation would be ready to undertake a special assessment mission to North Korea, that could include some of our laureates, such as Professor Yuan Longping of China, Catherine Bertini of the United Nations, and Gebisa Ejeta of Ethiopia and Purdue University. Such an initiative could also potentially involve China given President Xi Jinping’s historic connection to Iowa and the presence of U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad, the former governor of Iowa, in Beijing.

As a former congressman from Kansas, Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin MORE will be familiar with the power of agricultural science to transform farming and livelihoods. Its capability to also impact diplomacy and international relations, especially when it it is conjoined with Borlaug’s humanitarian legacy, can potentially be just as equally transformative in U.S. foreign policy on North Korea.

Kenneth Quinn is president of the World Food Prize Foundation. He is a former American diplomat who spent more than 30 years as a career foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department.