Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Smith Center Efforts Help to Reduce Global Food Insecurity

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The sun has just begun to set behind the beautiful rolling hills at the end of  a very rewarding trip. Farmers in Rwanda have been recruited and taught how to efficiently  raise chickens. Working with local partners to help those in food insecure countries how to increase their agricultural production can result in the development of long-term solutions to hunger.  

Interested farmers attend an information session in Mudakama village, Musane, Rwanda, about Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke, a new broiler chicken production program

Tom Gill works for the Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture at the University of  Tennessee. In 2001, he moved to Uganda for a year to help those experiencing food insecurity.  

“When I left Uganda and moved back to the UK, I was in shock,” Gill said. “I realized it is difficult to understand what others can be going through. I then asked myself how to  communicate to others what is happening in the world regarding hunger.”  

Since that initial time in East Africa, he felt called to reduce both hunger and poverty while also restoring the planet in an era of climate change. Alongside universities, governments, private  companies and non-profits, Gill now works with the Smith Center to implement agricultural development projects in various countries throughout the tropics. 

Tworore Inkoko farmer in Kinigi, Rwanda, checks on feed and water for her chickens, which she is raising to sell in local markets. She will use the profits from the UT-led program to improve her household’s food and nutrition security and start new agricultural enterprises.

His role at UT is to provide structure, direction and a vision for UT faculty, staff and students to  work with local partners overseas so they have the tools to effectively continue the projects for  years to follow. For example, in Rwanda, Gill and the UT team were responsible for setting up the  project, managing the data and researching trends. They worked with Rwandan colleagues who taught farmers not only how to raise chickens, but how to bookkeep and run a business. 

Gill and his team are also working to develop long-term partnerships in Central America, Southeast Asia, and other parts of East Africa. Connections require time and trust to both build and develop. 

Prior to COVID-19, UT faculty, staff and students were traveling to around 60 countries each year for study abroad, internships, research and community engagement

“Globally it has been very hard for our partners, with a lot of countries on lockdown,” Gill said. “People have been unable to take their produce and animals to market and make income. They are unable to get food.”  

Although COVID-19 has presented its challenges, the Smith Center has been hosting  fundraisers to raise money for different countries and recently held one for Guatemala. 

Gill explains how food insecurity in Knoxville tends to be different than food insecurity in other  countries. Food insecurity in Knoxville can often involve lack of access to quality foods and the  right nutrition; however, in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, people may not know if they  will have enough food to eat. 

“What we can do here is raise awareness within our campus community about local and  global food insecurity,” Gill said. “The first step is communicating that there should not be a  stigma around food insecurity. There is no shame in needing help.” 

About the Smith Center  

The Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture seeks to empower UT’s faculty,  staff and students to pursue sustainable solutions in order to combat the world’s agricultural  and natural resource challenges. They strive to build relationships with international partners  around the world in order to combat global hunger. They also have numerous programs and  opportunities for students to be directly be involved in improving food insecurity around the  world. 

Visit the Smith Center Homepage here:

Gill is offering a pilot program focusing on SDG goals this fall.

Course: ALEC 485/585 Global Sustainable Development Goals

  • T/R 1:10-2:25pm (Tuesdays and a couple of Thursdays will be face-to-face; most Thursdays will be asynchronous online).
  • Open to sophomores, upper division undergrads, and all graduate students, all majors, all UTK colleges; no prerequisites.
  • This is an interdisciplinary course that does not require any agricultural knowledge or background (even though taught through Herbert College of Agriculture).
  • Any questions, please contact Dr. Tom Gill, Smith Chair in International Sustainable Agriculture at

Course Description: The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015 and provide a framework and direction for all countries of the world towards 17 common global goals. The SDGs are goals towards which our global society has agreed and outline high-level targets in all spheres of human interaction with each other and the planet. This course will provide a transdisciplinary introduction and assessment of these global SDGs. The course will present each of the SDGs, look at global progress towards each SDG, and provide opportunities for students to explore the synergies of the SDGs. While emphasis will be placed on the global nature of the SDGs, this course will provide students with the opportunities to reflect on these goals and participate in multidisciplinary teams to develop action plans for addressing multiple SDGs as individuals and for the UT community.