Plant Science Post

Food Security a “Moral Imperative” – President Obama

September 8, 2015
Food Security

How is the U.S. addressing global food security and what is the role of plant science? One way is Feed the Future, a multi-agency effort organized by the U.S. government that calls on research and technology, among other avenues, to help find solutions. Dr. Nancy Stetson, who oversees the nation’s diplomacy on food security and nutrition at the U.S. State Department, explains more.

What is Feed the Future?

Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s cornerstone global hunger and food security initiative. It was borne out of President Obama’s pledge at the 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy to mobilize at least $3.5 billion toward global food security, which spurred additional commitments of $18.5 billion from other donors. Feed the Future focuses on smallholder farmers, particularly women, and supports 19 partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to reduce hunger, poverty and under-nutrition.

How do you define food security?

Food security means having at all times both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Food insecurity is often rooted in poverty and has long-term impacts on the ability of families, communities and countries to develop. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are currently 795 million people across the world who struggle with hunger.

How can plant science and technology improve global food security?

Innovation and scientific research is a pillar of the Feed the Future initiative. A growing world population and changes in diets will require us to waste less while we increase global food production at least 60 percent by 2050. Agricultural biotechnology is among the tools at our disposal. In order to nutritiously feed a growing world population using less land, water, fertilizer and crop protection products, we will need to combine the best agricultural practices with the best science and technology.

What are some of the most promising innovations that aid food security?

Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to loss of vision and impaired immune function, is a public health threat in many countries where Feed the Future works. For example, in Zambia, vitamin A deficiency affects more than 50 percent of children younger than five. Feed the Future fights vitamin A deficiency by promoting consumption of beta-carotene-rich foods, including orange maize varieties and sweet potato. Our program in Mozambique helped drive down vitamin A deficiency in children by 15 percent over three years in participating communities. In Uganda, Feed the Future is partnering to reach more than 225,000 farming households with orange sweet potato by 2016.

How do you make scientific innovation and technology accessible to small-scale farmers?

One important way we’re reaching small-scale farmers is through climate-resilient crops. Poor farmers are among the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. For example, maize is a staple crop with cultural importance for many families across Sub-Saharan Africa, but an estimated 40 percent of Africa’s maize cultivation area faces drought stress with a drought every four to five years, threatening to lower production for tens of millions of farmers.

Feed the Future supports efforts such as the multi-stakeholder Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project. Already, two million farmers in Africa have adopted drought-tolerant maize varieties, which help them get at least 25 percent higher yields during moderate drought conditions while still maximizing their harvest during good rains.

Why is food security important to everyone, even those who are already food secure?

“It’s a moral imperative, it’s an economic imperative, and it’s a security imperative,” according to President Obama. Economic prosperity here at home is tied to economic growth throughout the world. Ensuring food security through investment in agriculture can help move people out of poverty, create stronger communities and open new markets. Food security and nutrition also are tied to strong economies, healthy populations and stable societies. Investing in agriculture as a driver of economic growth is a smart investment; growth in the agriculture sector is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

Nancy Stetson is the U.S. Special Representative for the Global Food Security, Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy for Feed the Future