Driven to Discover
Dr. G. Edward Schuh is driven to discover ways to help alleviate the hardship and disadvantages of the 80 percent of the world's population that is poverty-stricken
You'd never know Professor G. Edward Schuh is about to retire. He has barely arrived in his office after teaching a class, and immediately sets about making travel arrangements to China. He settles into a chair, and consults with his assistant for an upcoming trip: he's been invited to give the keynote address at the 100th anniversary celebration of Sichuan Agricultural University. It's all in a day's - or life's - work for Professor Schuh.
"My magnum opus, as I like to call it, is looking at economic structures of global agriculture," Schuh says. He emphasizes the macroeconomics of agriculture and the role of the sector in the larger context of the economy. Agriculture, he points out, is not just planting and harvesting crops. There are systems of production and broader sectors that service agriculture as food is produced and delivered to consumers. These complicated systems vary enormously from country to country, and include the fiscal and monetary systems that serve the sector.
"People tend to regard agriculture as an individual sector, but it is integral to the world economy as a whole," he points out. It is this research that has taken him all over the world.
Schuh started young. He grew up on a vegetable farm in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and even then dreamed of far-off places. He recalls being "absolutely enthralled" with Brazil. "I was studying up on the Institute Butanta (a reptile research center) in Sao Paulo, something that not a lot of other kids were doing!", he laughs.
He received a degree in agricultural education from Purdue University and was on the faculty for almost two decades. He went to Brazil in the winter of 1963 as part of a program to develop what eventually became the Federal University of Vicosa. At the time it was a rural university patterned after a U.S. land grant institution, and it had about 400 students in its agriculture college. The goal was to help establish the first graduate programs in the agricultural sciences in Latin America. Today the university has an enrollment of about 27,000, and over 75 graduate and doctorate programs. Schuh also happened to meet a certain Brazilian graduate student in the program, whom he married a few years later. "It was the easiest decision I ever made - and it's paid off a long time!" he laughs.
Along the way, Schuh received a masters of science degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University, and went on to earn a PhD, from the University of Chicago. Many of the faculty members received Nobel Prizes in economics - Schuh studied under seven of them. "They had an indelible impact," he recalls.
Schuh continued to have one foot firmly planted in Brazil. He helped developed the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), a national agricultural research system, whose mission is to provide feasible solutions for the sustainable development of Brazilian agribusiness. However, he tried to keep his labors on the q.t.": "I didn't want anyone to know my contributions since I wanted it to be perceived as a Brazilian institution." EMBRAPA is now one of the strongest agricultural research systems in the developing world, and his adopted country considers him "An American Brazilianist".
Schuh was named the first "Legendary Member" of the Brazilian Society of Rural Economics and Sociology in 2004 for his work in developing agricultural economics research and teaching institutions. A certificate for the honor rendered in Portuguese hangs in his office, one of the several languages he speaks. Schuh also received Brazil's highest scientific award, the National Order of Scientific Merit, Gra Cruz from the Brazilian government's Ministry of Science Technology. The award, which was presented by President Luiz Iná cio Lula da Silva and the president of the Brazilian Academy of Science, is regarded as the equivalent of the U.S.'s Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"It was one of the great honors of my life", Schuh said, "The award means as much to me as being named a Regents Professor." Schuh received the Regents Professorship in 1998. He was surprised and overwhelmed by the award - and still is: "I have a responsibility to continue this work, to push this work with the Regents Professor award," he says emphatically.
"Dr. Schuh's work shows why the University of Minnesota is a world leader in agricultural economics," President Bruininks says of Professor Schuh.
In addition to being the Orville and Jane Freeman Professor of International Trade and Investment Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Schuh was part of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the first trade agreement with China. He was Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture in the Carter Administration at the time, and the only person in the delegation representing agriculture. Schuh also co-chaired a mission with agricultural scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug to North Korea to assess the food situation.
Schuh also served as the World Bank's Director of Agriculture and Rural Development. In that position he was responsible for the largest portfolio of loans in the Bank -- over $15 billion around the world. Schuh found his tenure at the World Bank a tremendous learning experience, although it was difficult working with so many different ethnic groups, each of which had a different agenda. "I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars - but wouldn't give you a penny for another day of it!"
After three years, he returned to the University of Minnesota and served as Dean of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs from 1987-1997. As Dean, he found its multidisciplinary scholars often as difficult to pull together as the various groups at the World Bank. "The fact that I continued as Dean at the Humphrey Institute ten years shows how stubborn I am!"
More recently, Schuh's work addresses international trade problems. He is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil on problems associated with the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. In addition, he is working on a book-length manuscript that addresses the global problems of world agriculture.
To be sure, Schuh shows no signs of slowing down, and he describes the work that has yet to be done. He is working on a paper on global policy on food and agriculture and cites new initiatives to examine health issues as they relate to agriculture. There are numerous health problems in rural and agricultural sectors - for instance, diseases and parasites associated with water in the tropics and ills associated with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Until recently, agricultural scientists and students of agricultural development have largely ignored these issues. "There is a whole new generation of research now dedicated to trying to improve the nutritional status of foods as they grow in the fields. That gets us into the whole area of nutrition and health."
Schuh leaned back in his chair at the end of a long day and smiled. "The only difference between now and my retirement is that I won't get a paycheck at the end of the month."