University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Jack Kloppenburg has had some of his most memorable experiences abroad, but he focuses on taking that worldview and applying it locally.
Kloppenburg, a professor in the department of Community and Environmental Sociology, whose work involves social analysis of farming and food systems, served in the Peace Corps in Botswana from 1976 to 1979.
On a 500 kilometer trip along a dirt road in the country, Kloppenburg gave a ride to a pair of armed guerillas of the Zimbabwe African National Union until the five-ton truck he was driving got a flat tire outside a village.
“All the people in the village saw these two guys with guns getting down from the truck, and the whole village ran off into the bush,” Kloppenburg said.
Kloppenburg said during his time in Botswana, before which he had no experience with agriculture, he discovered he liked working with plants and farmers. It also exposed him to “real poverty and inequality” for the first time.
“[I] found that the inequalities that I had witnessed in Botswana were here in the United States as well,” he said, “and decided that it was my place to be here in this country rather than working in international development.”
On campus, Kloppenburg is the director of the GreenHouse residential learning community, which will include a greenhouse on the roof of the New 32 residence hall where it will be next year.
In his research, Kloppenburg studies plant breeding and community access to those genetic changes. He said patents are a major problem in plant breeding, calling it “appalling” that researchers cannot use patented seeds.
Kloppenburg works alongside worldwide colleagues with Open Source Seed Initiative, aiming to have seed breeders connect open source licenses to their products so the seeds cannot be patented.
Although he recognizes global responsibilities and connections, Kloppenburg said it is important to know and understand the place in which you live in order to know the global issues.
“If I can’t learn to live sustainably here,” he said, “how can I talk about living sustainably in California, or Chile or Botswana?”