Global Food Security - A Looming Challenge the Public Often Forgets


October 28, 2011

This month the world will have its 7 billionth person born.    People’s diets are moving in a direction that requires more resources to produce food.  By 2050, the world is projected to have 9 billion people.  Meeting the needs to feed all of these people will no doubt be a challenge, but one the public often forgets. 

Today, I attended the National Journal’s Healthy Food Healthy Planet event at the Newseum.  The event was packed as USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was the Keynote Speaker and former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman was a panelist, amongst other food security experts.  Instead of providing you the exhaustive list of potential solutions to food insecurity, the overall message is that meeting future food demands will require a systems approach by the farmer, consumer, and government and if implemented correctly, environmental integrity and human morality will be retained.

Two issues resonated with me the most.  First, food security is not a hot button topic with the public or media.  Within and outside of DC priorities are focused on health-care, energy, budget, etc.  I speculate this lack of attention may result from the fact that most Americans are not food insecure. In the future, it is likely the U.S. will be affected on a disproportionately low level from food insecurity unlike developing nations.  Ignoring food insecurity has moral implications as millions, if not billions of people’s lives are in jeopardy if we don’t solve this global problem. It is the obligation of our policy makers and citizens to focus on solutions and raise awareness about the issue before more people are affected by food insecurity.

The second resonating message is that there is a lack of agricultural research.  Agricultural research is the crux of achieving global food security. We need to produce more with less and that can only be achieved by innovation.  The public and policymakers should be more aware and emphasize the importance of agricultural research.

Fertilizer is essential to obtaining food security in the future.  This is generally acknowledged by experts in the field on both the left and right.  However, fertilizer was barely mentioned at the event.  Panelists did allude to the use of fertilizer while discussing how inputs must be managed to be as efficient as possible.  This is exactly what the 4R nutrient stewardship system is about.  In order to implement this in a site-specific manner, more research is needed on cropping systems in different regions of the world.

Making more with less will be a challenge but I’m placing my bet on humanity’s success.