President's Report

Creating legal frameworks to ensure food security

By 2040, the world’s population is estimated to increase by one-third to reach 9.1 billion. Meanwhile, food demand will rise by 70 percent. If there is no system in place to increase food production, an alarming number of people worldwide, particularly in developing countries, will die of hunger.

Elon Law Professor Henry Gabriel is working hard to ensure that doesn’t happen.

A member-elect of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) in Rome, Gabriel is working with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and other international groups to develop a legal framework to provide for agricultural development worldwide.

Farmers, he explains, need to be able to get loans to buy tractors, seeds, fertilizers and other inputs. They also need infrastructure and transportation to get the food from where it’s grown to where it’ll be stored and finally to market. All of these production stages have some legal structure behind them, Gabriel says.

“In the United States and Western Europe we don’t even think about it but a lot of the world doesn’t have that,” he adds.

While it will likely take 10 years to complete the entire project, Gabriel says much progress is being made in the meantime. He is currently chairing an international group on contract farming and this summer, two Elon law students conducted research in Rome that the group will use in the next two years to create a series of contracts to be used in all the different areas of farming. Afterward, they will start looking at financing regulations and infrastructure contracts.

When he’s not conducting research, Gabriel teaches courses on domestic and international commercial, contract and financing law, something he has been doing at Elon since 2008 and other universities since 1981. Every year, he also takes a team of Elon law students to Vienna for an international moot court to learn more about different legal traditions, an important lesson if they are to practice law globally.

Students “need to know that lawyers in different parts of the world – in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia – look at the law differently; they think of the law in different ways, they use the law in different ways,” he says. “It’s exciting to see my students when they sort of pick up on that. It’s a major growth experience for them.”

Besides working with UNIDROIT, Gabriel is an elected member of the American Law Institute, an appointed commissioner to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Working Groups on Electronic Commerce and Transport Documents. He has also served as reporter for the revisions of the sales and leases articles of the Uniform Commercial Code, chair of the Uniform Commercial Code Revision Committee for Documents of Title and a drafting committee member of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.

Though he has worked extensively for decades on law development, Gabriel is particularly passionate about his project on food security.

“It matters in such a big way that I can’t even describe it,” he says. “I’ve spent decades teaching students how to finance cars; they need to know that. They are going to go out and practice law, they are going to be representing banks and buyers and that’s not unimportant, but it doesn’t have the same gravity as this particular project does to me.”

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