While the success of U.S. farmers — increasing crop and livestock production five-fold in just under a century — represents an achievement unique in the world, it has, a new report contends, “bred complacency in America about the challenges of feeding the world.”

Further, it notes, federal spending on agricultural research “has been largely stagnant for three decades, and even slipped in recent years when adjusting for inflation.”

The report, “Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business,” developed for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, urges the U.S. government to focus its global food security strategy on prioritizing science, increasing trade flows for agriculture and food, and incentivizing greater business activity in low income countries.

“While we realize that the current debt and deficit challenge make this a difficult tie for Congress to increase spending, failing to address the problems that a dynamic agriculture is facing will place our economic and national security interests at great risk,” says Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture, and co-chair of the group that signed the report. “Making these investments now is the most prudent course of action for America and the world.”

The bipartisan panel included co-chair Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Program and 2003 World Food Prize laureate; Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum; Ann Veneman, former Secretary of Agriculture; Paul Schielder, president of DuPont Pioneer, and other national/international authorities in the agriculture, food, and foreign policy sectors.

Keenum, Under Secretary of Agriculture before assuming the MSU presidency in 2009, says research universities such as Mississippi State have a critical role in solving the challenge of food security. "This report reflects the scope of the problem, and the challenges that exist in addressing the issue of global food security," he says. "I believe this report provides a bright line example of why maintaining adequate competitive public and private research funding is imperative."

Global food security has been a research priority under Keenum's leadership at MSU. "If food production doesn't increase significantly, the number of people living in poverty will increase greatly," he says. "We should be compelled to help feed the world and allleviate suffering — first, because it's the right thing to do, but also because it is important to our national security."

Along with research, he says, the university has formed strategic partnerships, including a memorandum of understanding for research with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, a formal agreement with Nigeria to educate poultry science students, and other alliances. The United States and its land grant universities have the reseources to make feeding the world "an entirely achievable goal — although not an easy one."

The world is facing "perhaps the greatest challenge of a generation: how to feed two billion more people nutritiously in the decades ahead,” the report notes. “With global food demand expected to rise 60 percent by 2050, the world’s farmers will need to produce as much food over the next 40 years as they have in thousands of years to date.”

This need comes at a time when global agricultural production is not increasing at the same rate as in decades past, and water and untapped productive land are becoming harder to find.

The U.S. “has the capacity to rally the necessary resources and expertise at home and abroad toward equipping the global agriculture and food system to sustainable meet future demand,” the report says. “By leading this charge, the U.S. would also create more American jobs, expand trade and investment opportunities, grow markets, and increase U.S. influence globally.”

If future generations are to be fed, the study says, “innovation in the agriculture and food sectors must be dramatically ramped up … and this can best be achieved by focusing on three key areas: science, trade, and business, areas in which the U.S. has a comparative advantage and the capacity to lead.”

While science has made it possible to exponentially increase agricultural production over the past century, “the science of the past will not meet the demands of the future,” it says. “Food production will need to take into account environmental impact, producing more while using less land and water resources, adapting to climate change and greater weather variability, while balancing nutrition and energy needs.”

Innovation must be priority

To equip agriculture and the food system to meet these challenges, the report calls on Washington to “make agricultural innovation a priority on its international and domestic agenda; for Congress and the White House to give America’s public research system a new mission of reinventing U.S. and global agriculture so it is far more productive, environmental sustainable, nutritious, and resilient to setbacks through a focus on sustainable intensification.”

Sustainable intensification, it says, would equip farmers with the innovations to increase production of nutritious foods, bringing higher incomes to small-holder farmers; conserve land and water through efficient and prudent use of inputs; improve human health through accessible food that is nutritious; adapt to climate change; reduce environmental impact; and reduce food waste along the supply chain.

It should, the report says, “include a focus on a broader set of crops to feed humanity.” While corn, wheat, and rice now supply most of humanity’s calories,“ it is becoming risky to have humanity depend so heavily on so few crops.”

Current methods of agriculture and food science “make it difficult, if not impossible,” to meet these goals, it contends. This is due to “limited incentives for scientists in other disciplines to collaborate to meet agricultural challenges, and ineffective transmission of innovations to farmers in low income countries, who are often the least productive.”

The U.S. government should, it says, “provide agricultural and food science the incentives, including the resources, it needs to fully deploy current tools such as conventional breeding, hydrology, and conservation tillage, as well as taking full advantage of an exploding array of new tools such as bioinformatics, geographic information systems, tailored precision agriculture, molecular breeding, irrigation technologies, and biofortification. This should include more funding for basic research, as well as for competitive grants to spur innovation.”

Trade and business play a critical role in achieving these goals, the report says. “Science cannot create global food security on its own. Many countries’ food security depends on trade, yet only 25 percent of food crosses borders. The U.S. should worker harder to make expanded trade and the unfettered movement of food and agricultural commodities a higher priority on its international agenda.”

While the U.S. “has proven it can provide international leadership in the quest toward global food security, with the expertise, institutions, and experience to energize the effort,” the report says the challenge is to provide “the vision and commitment of American governmental, university, research, and business leaders working alongside their international counterparts.”

If the recommendations are implemented, it says, hundreds of millions of people can be lifted out of poverty over the next two decades, while helping to insure sustainable food and nutrition security for generations to come.”

Failure to do so, it says, may put America’s domestic and international interests at risk and “the American farm belt — one of the strongest parts of the economy — could lose export opportunities and see its future prospects dim.

“Action is needed now, even in tough fiscal times,” the report says. “Feeding the world is only going to become more difficult … The U.S. government must increase its funding for agriculture and food security. The strong commitment of the U.S. Congress, the president, vice president, and cabinet officers will be critical to the success of this effort.”

The “Blueprint for Action” calls for:

  • ŸMaking global food security a high priority of U.S. economic and foreign development policy.
  • ŸForging a new science of agriculture based on sustainable intensification.
  • ŸReinvigorating trade as a food security and development tool.
  • ŸMaking market access and partnership with business a pillar of food security policy.

(Read the report at http://bit.ly/ZaqsK3)