In the United States, it's easy to take our food supply for granted. Less than one percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation, yet there is no national shortage. To the contrary, agricultural exports are strong. From the dining room of most U.S. consumers, the notion of "food security" -- an adequate supply of daily food for a growing population -- may seem irrelevant.
And yet, food security is the cornerstone to stable societies. As noted by the late Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Father of the Green Revolution: "You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery." And that's a growing challenge with global population -- and demand for food -- expected to double by 2050.
Food security is national security. Better farming can change the game -- addressing multiple global issues that include hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, poor nutrition and even civil unrest.
That's why it is so important that on Thursday, the Obama administraton is announcing its new food security plan -- outlining the best ways to maximize the effectiveness of the $22 billion that the U.S. government and other G8 countries pledged at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, in July 2009 to "increase food production, improve access to food and empower smallholder farmers to gain access to enhanced inputs, technologies, credit and markets." The immediate objective is to reach the first Millenium Development Goal of cutting global hunger and poverty in half by 2015. The plan will channel investment to potentially 20 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere to support food security policies that those countries have crafted themselves.
The need for international action is obvious. Members of these developing countries -- Kenya, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Haiti for example -- face challenges that didn't exist 25 years ago. Besides, in the eternal race to feed a growing population, poor countries now are likely to shoulder the brunt of steadily rising food prices due to demand from a rising global middle class.
Rising food prices have led to civil unrest and increased protests: Already in the last five years, the world has seen more food protests across multiple countries than it did in the previous 30. The growing middle class in markets such as China and India is likely to continue driving up demand for improved diets -- and with it, the price of grain that poorer consumers depend on for their daily bread and other basics. Add to that the specter of global warming -- with drought, disease, and insect infestation -- and the prospect of continued food price increases will be part of a distasteful menu for a long time to come.
What is the answer to this challenge? Collectively, we must double agricultural production by 2050. With limited new farmland to bring under cultivation, the focus is on increasing the yield and nutritional impact produced by every existing farm acre.
To get there, investment in agricultural innovation is essential. Public-private partnerships between companies, NGOs, governments, and academic researchers are critical to leveraging the $22 billion pledged at L'Aquila. This is where U.S. companies can make a difference, putting their expertise in innovation and investment in research to work for food security.
Many public-private partnerships already are under way. For example, DuPont, is teaming up with the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines to find hybrids to boost rice yield growth rates which have fallen below one percent since 2000. If not reversed soon, this trend will lead to tight supply and higher prices.
In Kenya, we are working with the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to improve maize harvests for African farmers by 30 percent to 50 percent with new varieties that need less fertilizer.
Such cooperative efforts - in concert with a strong, holistic agricultural policy - can pay huge dividends -- a one percent improvement in agriculture GDP reduces poverty rates by roughly one percent. Building food security around the world will help all of our globe's populations.
This is why, though you and I may go to bed with a full stomach, we all need to be thinking about global food security.
Paul Schickler is President of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, Pioneer is the world's leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics to farmers worldwide. Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides services to customers in more than 90 countries.
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