Max Wohlgemuth

MPS, Global Development
  • Hometown: Columbus, Nebraska
  • College attended and major: University of Nebraska - Lincoln; Bachelor of Journalism with a minor in Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
  • Coverdell Fellowship awardee 
What are the big challenges you want to tackle in the world?

In the broad sense, I would have to say hunger. Not literally the feeling you get when you haven't eaten food, but specifically the long-term effects of not having enough adequate nutritious food for extended periods of time. A great example is one of the challenges we faced in Tanzania. The country as a whole is food surplus, meaning it produces enough food to feed its population each year. However, the production is uneven, and areas of food insecurity persist. To make matters worse, regions with the largest annual surpluses can have the highest burden of undernutrition. This is due to a diet overly reliant on unfortified maize and other grains. Smallholder farmers often live off their surplus until the next year's harvest. If this surplus is primarily grains, then the children might not be getting enough essential nutrients for healthy growth. The effects of undernutrition during early development can be life-long, causing a vicious, intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.

What were you doing before the MPS program?

I was an agriculture Peace Corps volunteer stationed in the Mlevela village in Njombe of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. My village was at a very high elevation and would get very cold in the dry winter months. During the rainy season we received plenty of rain with the mostly commonly grown food commodities being maize, tea and potatoes. I would receive gifts regularly from my community of potatoes — 10, 20, or 30 pounds at a time. South of my village were large wattle tree plantations which are used for producing and exporting tannins for leather production.

After my two years in the village, I extended my service to work with the Tanzania Communication and Development Centre, a local NGO which worked in social behavior change communications. Our project was in north-central Tanzania based in Babati, and the aim was to promote locally fortified and produced sunflower cooking oil. The key word here is fortified. Fortifying at the small-medium producer level was new to the area, and our objective was for people to begin using the more nutritious version of their beloved locally produced oil.

What does global development mean to you?

After completing my Peace Corps service, I began working for the World Food Program (WFP) as a consultant. WFP provides humanitarian food assistance in emergencies and also works on development projects with an emphasis on food, including support for smallholder farmers, social protection systems and with nutrition. It was during this time that I really saw the why of what we do in global development. WFP provides emergency food assistance to tens of millions of people each year. Many of these people have had their lives distributed by natural or man-made disasters.

Investment in developing vulnerable communities is critically important. More resilient and food secure communities are better prepared for disasters such as conflict, drought or floods. These investments can save millions or even billions of dollars — not to mention lives — down the road, which otherwise might be needed for humanitarian food assistance.