Rohan Freedman isn’t kidding when he says he wants to end world hunger after graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School. He’s already off to a good start.

An all-around top student who’s especially good at science and math, Freedman was selected to attend the 2017 World Food Prize Conference, held each year in Des Moines, Iowa. The international award recognizes individuals who have increased the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Freedman was among 200 high school students nationwide who participated in the three-day Global Youth Institute held during the conference. The teen delegates studied pressing world food security issues, discussed their findings with global leaders in science, industry and policy, including Nobel and World Food prize winners, and toured cutting-edge industrial and research facilities.

Because he attended the conference, Freedman was one of 24 students who were granted a prestigious, all-expenses-paid Borlaug-Ruan International Internship. For eight weeks last summer, he studied rice-growing genetics at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, China.

Working with an international group of graduate students, Freedman compared genetic differences among 600 varieties of rice seeds from around the world. The goal was to identify varieties that had the best seedling emergence in different types of soil and growing conditions. Freedman and the other researchers isolated DNA from each variety to develop crops that could withstand climate change. It was a life-changing experience.

“Being around people twice my age, at first I was kind of lost,” Freedman said. “But it was an amazing experience and it quickly became very comfortable. It was like a job I went to every day.”

Freedman found that his diverse ethnicity – his mother is from India and his father is Jewish – made it easier to navigate a foreign culture and live in an international dorm with grad students from places such as Pakistan and Paraguay.

“Coming from a diverse background, going to China felt normal to me,” Freedman said. “I sometimes felt more comfortable there than I did in Cape. I fit in.”

Also one of Maine’s top high school swimmers, Freedman plans to attend Brown University and continue his efforts to end global food insecurity. He wants to focus on the unequal distribution of food in the world, knowing that countries such as the United States produce much more than they need, while people in other nations go hungry.

“Before, I wasn’t really educated about that,” Freedman said. “I want to empower farmers in parts of the world where they have less to grow more.”

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