His smile is almost always present. The determination and purpose behind it are, too. George Annor’s smile formed about four decades ago in the Republic of Ghana, a country in West Africa along the Gulf of Guinea. “The people are nice. People are happy and smiling, even though things are not always good,” Annor told American Farmland Owner.
Poverty is prevalent compared to the rest of the world (not as high as other African countries) but optimism perseveres. Annor said, “If you think about all the issues and the problems that you encounter every day, you’re going to be sad. But irrespective of all that, we still make a way. We still smile over a lot of things, and that helps you to get over some of the problems that we face.”
Annor recalled families back home not focused on striking it rich but rather growing enough food to feed themselves. That determination has stuck with him and become his life’s work. However, he doesn’t want to feed himself; he wants to help feed the world by leading research to better design and better grow the crops of tomorrow.
“I usually will call myself a ‘cereal scientist,’” Annor said.
His commitment to research led him to Ireland and Canada and ultimately landed him at the University of Minnesota. Dr. George Annor is associate professor and General Mills Endowed Professor in Cereal Chemistry and Technology.
His smile stayed with him and was included, along with his research accomplishments in cereals and grains, when the university announced that he had been awarded the 2023 McKnight Presidential Fellowship Award.
RELATED: Learn about the 2023 McKnight Presidential Fellowship Award presented to Dr. George Annor and his research into cereals and grains. Read that here.
Annor is committed to reducing food waste, and developing his research to use more and waste less of what we grow. “In a country like Ghana, or in most developing countries, there’s very little means to store food.”
So, producers and families alike try to maximize their potential by wasting as little as possible. “How do I correct or help and mitigate this food waste system?” he asks.
Fermentation is a solution back home, not as much in America. “In Ghana, eating fermented foods is actually a big thing, because some of these products start going bad. We don’t really see it as spoiled. We just see it as fermented is just another type of food,” Annor explained.
Americans don’t share that love of fermentation, Annor said.
Dr. George Annor areas of research interest
· Non-thermal modifications of cereals and cereal products
· Cereal grain quality and functionality
· Ingredient interactions in cereals (Starch-protein-lipid interactions)
· Starch structure and digestibility
· β-glucan functionality
What Americans do love these days is protein. Farmand producers and owners are looking to increase the amount of protein in what they grow. Annor and his research team hope to help. Wheat is one of those crops right now.
“We keep tabs on how the grain is changing. Is it changing for the better? Is it remaining the same?” Annor said as he follows the evolution of the grain.
The idea is to increase wheat’s protein, increase its yield, and make it more pest resistant. But even if the team successfully accomplishes all that, it could ultimately fail if the new version fails the consumer taste test. “If you do all those things, and you ultimately change the grain in a negative way…consumers won’t buy it. The food industry won’t be able to use it,” Annor said.
RELATED: Dr. George Annor is also part of the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota. The project is developing winter-hardy annual and perennial crops with a focus on protecting soil and water. Learn more about what the university’s research team is doing here.
Annor’s research has also explored the potential of Kernza, an intermediate wheatgrass. He sees it as an emerging sustainable crop. Sustainability amid a growing population, weather extremes, and shrinking American farmland could be crucial to future food production.
Kernza, while promising, is not suited for all climates in the United States. “A cool season crop,” Annor described it.
Minnesota and Kansas are among the climates that could help Kernza do well. “The crop has very, very deep root systems, huge root systems,” Annor said.
The roots can tunnel ten feet or more beneath the soil surface. The Land Institute, a Kansas-based nonprofit, said the roots help to deliver atmospheric carbon into the soil and take up water and nutrients.
Following harvest, the leaves and stems that remain can be food for cattle.
Kernza’s original purpose focused on feeding livestock. But now it’s become an emerging source of grain for humans with potential in baked goods and beer. Annor’s research team has been experimenting with different recipes.
This Ghana native working on sustainable nutrition and food production for the future by enjoying a cookie and a glass of beer that he and his team have been studying.
“I had no idea where I would be in the future. And if somebody had told me at that time that I'll be sitting here in Minnesota as an associate professor, I would have said, no way!” Annor said with a smile.
Because, of course, he smiled.
RELATED: PBS Newshour profiled a Minnesota farmer who was among the first to grow Kernza in his area. Watch that here.