McGill graduate pledges $1.5 million to support global food security efforts

| McGill Press Release. Julie Fortier, Media Relations Office

New York-based business analyst’s interest borne out of childhood spent on farm.

Margaret Gilliam

Increasing food price volatility, recurrent floods and droughts, and shrinking land and water resources have pushed millions of people into hunger and poverty. According to the United Nations, there are now nearly one billion undernourished people globally – which means that one in seven go hungry each day.

A generous $1.5-million gift from businesswoman and graduate Margaret A. Gilliam, BSc’59, will help McGill University build on its recent initiatives to tackle the global food and nutrition crisis and seek long-term answers for sustainable agricultural production.

Gilliam’s gift will support research, teaching and graduate fellowships at the McGill Institute for Global Food Security, which was created in 2010 and is now recognized as Canada’s leading multidisciplinary teaching and research centre on global food security. Based at the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Institute hosts the annual McGill Conference on Global Food Security, which brings together governments, academics, NGOs, the food industry and agricultural experts from around the world.

“Food security is a worldwide problem that requires our immediate attention,” Gilliam said. “I am delighted that McGill is working towards addressing this issue and that I can play some part in this worthwhile mission.”

Unlike the study of food safety, which focuses on protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses, food security involves ensuring that the world’s populations have secure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food supplies

Margaret Gilliam’s gift will be invested in three areas:

  • The Margaret A. Gilliam Faculty Scholar in Food Security, which will serve to attract or retain a scholar who pursues research in the area of global food security.
  • The Margaret A. Gilliam Fellowships in Food Security, which will recognize and support outstanding McGill graduate students who are studying global food security issues.
  • The Margaret A. Gilliam Endowment in Food Security, which will be used to fund, in perpetuity, teaching, research and outreach initiatives related to food security.

“Maggie Gilliam’s gift will allow us to find solutions to some of the most devastating problems currently affecting nearly one billion people around the world: food security, malnutrition and hunger,” said Chandra A. Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental. “Through her generosity, we will attract and retain outstanding professors, scholars and graduate students who are working to make our world a better and more secure place for future generations.

Born in Ottawa, Gilliam grew up on a farm in British Columbia, where she gained an appreciation for agriculture and the importance of sustainability. She now lives in New York City, where she spent over 30 years as a Wall Street securities analyst, covering all facets of the retailing industry and other related areas. She went on to found Gilliam & Co., a research and consulting firm that assists companies in developing and executing viable business strategies, and helps investors optimize returns in both the private and public sectors.

Marc Weinstein, McGill’s Vice-Principal (Development and Alumni Relations), praised Gilliam for her strong belief in the importance of supporting scientific education and scholarship. “McGill is deeply grateful for Maggie Gilliam’s incredible passion and her commitment to our University,” he said. “Her visionary leadership in making a gift that includes both direct and endowed funding will have both an immediate impact on our students and researchers, and allow for important work in food security to continue in perpetuity.”


2 Responses to “McGill graduate pledges $1.5 million to support global food security efforts”
  1. Ann Anderson says:

    This announcement is VERY good news for the McGill Institute for Global Food Security. Such an important institute should be recognized in the name of the faculty where it is based.

    Please consider seriously an addition to the faculty name—Faculty of Agricultural, Environmental and Food Sciences. That name describes much more fully the work of it. For several years I have advocated such a change, to include recognition of the excellent and extensive work in nutrition, food science, etc.

  2. Peter Webster B.Sc(Agr'66) M.Sc says:

    New activities like this continue to fuel pride in my Alma Mater. However, some concern is promoted by your quote from the statement of FAO’s Director General (Dr. Jacques Diouf) promoting “World Food Day” on October 16, 2011as if this is “holy writ”.
    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) promoted the theme “Food Prices – From Crisis to Stability” to highlight a worldwide trend that is “hurting the poor consumer, the small producer and agriculture in general” because “food prices which were stable for decades have become increasingly volatile”. They concluded that “controlling prices was key to the fight against hunger”.
    FAO further lamented that “Agriculture cannot respond fast enough with increased food production because of long-term under-investment in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure”.
    The statement leaves several unanswered questions and highlights a failure to conduct adequate cause and effect analysis that is a crucial component of a logical approach to planning: Why did FAO emphasise the volatility or fluctuation of food prices and not the fact that the prices were higher although fluctuating? How do higher prices hurt producers and agriculture in general? Why does FAO concern itself with the hungry? Since when are the interests of food producers the same as those of consumers? Could the high price of energy be a contributing factor to high food prices? and Why is there under-investment in agriculture?
    It is unfortunate that the FAO statement does not distinguish between the food producers and distributors. Promoting more investment in agriculture is like “pushing rope” since it deals with an effect and not the cause! Food producers around the world have repeatedly increased their production when they are adequately rewarded for their investment.
    We need to stop expecting the food producers to feed the poor and hungry – this is society’s responsibility not the food producers who are trying to earn a living! It is the poor that are hungry not the rich. Poverty and the inability to procure food came before the hunger! Producing more food or forcing producers to produce the food cheaper is not the solution for hunger!
    I strongly recommend that FAO focus on its mandate to promote food production and leave the job of feeding the hungry to those with that conflicting mandate. In the process FAO should ensure that OXFAM and other food-aiders feed the hungry with fresh, healthy food from their poor countries like rice, yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and coconut water instead of over-processed and unhealthy wheat flour and powdered milk. This would promote food production in the very countries where most of the hungry are located. Unfortunately, such action would put the food-aiders out of work and we cannot have that, can we?
    I recall hearing President Bush (the son) admit in the dying days of his Presidency (October, 2008) that the USA had made a mistake in providing food-aid to poor countries. He concluded that the USA should have helped the countries to produce their own food instead. At the time I thought “Wow! I wonder how many people have heard and will remember this”. Obviously not many!
    FAO also supports the “elimination of trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries”. Rubbish! Agricultural subsidies have been practiced by the rich countries for more than a century. It is one of the reasons why they are rich! Their economies are not bled by having to import billions of $ in foreign food. Subsidies promote their agricultural industry, maintain their producers’ standard of living and contribute significantly to their economies by providing value added opportunities (agro-industry) which amount to more than the value of their agricultural industry. They also promote their countries’ food security. Such subsidies only distort trade in agricultural commodities when the surpluses they tend to produce are dumped on the world market at less than their real cost of production. It is the act of dumping that distorts the trade not the subsidies!
    Governments the world over subsidise housing, health, education, transport, and utilities for the poor but are not supposed to subsidise the most basic and important item needed by the poor – food ! Logic seems to be lacking. Furthermore, if the subsidies are eliminated where would the food-aiders get their cheap food to feed the hungry? Round and round we go….!
    Peter Webster B.Sc (Agr ’66) M.Sc
    NB: Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture in Barbados.