Don't forget the world's food gap
News Feb 16, 2010
Late last month, leaders from around the world convened in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual conference of international leaders to address shared global challenges. While efforts to restore stability and prosperity to our financial system rightfully framed the conference agenda, I was most encouraged by the forum’s consideration of a topic even more fundamental to the survival of people around the globe but one that has received far less attention in the press and among policymakers: In order to feed a global population boom of 9 billion people by 2050, we will need to more than double our current levels of food production and develop a set of innovative strategies to combat a host of global-hunger-related and nutritional issues.
The urgency of this challenge cannot be understated. Indeed, the United Nations has said that world food output needs to grow by 70 percent by 2050 to address this dramatic increase in global population. Today, malnutrition is associated with half of all deaths in children under the age of 5 each year, and more than 1 billion people currently suffer from hunger and poverty. These numbers can be expected only to grow as our population increases by one-third over the next four decades.
Great challenges demand even better solutions, and better solutions can come only from the collaboration and competition of those willing to advance new ideas and technologies. Recently, I agreed to chair the new DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation and Productivity for the 21st Century, which seeks to do just that, by exploring how agricultural innovation can help us meet the food, feed, fiber and fuel demands of the coming decades. Innovation will lie at the heart of the agricultural revolution necessary to accomplish our goal of feeding the world by 2050 without increasing pressure on our world’s already strained and limited resources. In fact, innovation in agriculture won’t just provide more; it can also provide “better” — growing crops with nutritional benefits and developing seed that increases yield worldwide.
I have worked on agricultural issues both in and out of Congress for more than 30 years and am encouraged by the efforts of the current and previous administrations, the U.N. and a host of global organizations such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Still, in the coming months, I believe it is critical that agricultural leaders, in government, in companies, in NGOs and, of course, on farms, organize an agenda that rests on a set of core pillars.
First, we must support scientific and technological innovation in agriculture. In the past 25 years alone, farmers in the United States have boosted corn production by more than 40 percent. And products in the ag pipeline offer the promise of nutritional outputs that will improve products and boost yields. In order to realize these new technologies, we must foster innovation by incentivizing and encouraging investment in biotech and broader agricultural research and development.
Second, we must facilitate an open, competitive marketplace. The most significant scientific achievements occur when we combine the best of competition and collaboration. The ability of multiple companies to offer differentiated products and services in an open marketplace promotes agriculture productivity, accelerates innovation and increases choice. One way to achieve this is through strengthened legal and legislative safeguards designed to encourage innovation while protecting intellectual property rights in agriculture. Within this regulatory structure, facilitation of American agricultural exports is key; global regulatory barriers to market entry must be removed.
Third, we must collaborate to innovate. In order to face 21st-century food demands in a way that promotes health and protects the environment, innovation in science and competition must be accompanied by collaboration among parties who have traditionally been somewhat divided. This will require collaboration between companies, environmental groups, farmers, NGOs and governments to ensure that efforts are not mutually exclusive. For example, we must move past old illusions about food vs. fuel. Advances in agricultural innovation can help to both feed and fuel the world. In the face of climate change and national security threats, we must continue to innovate so that the agriculture industry can meet the demand for both food and fuel in the coming decades.
Finally, we must empower farmers worldwide with the tools necessary to meet this growing demand. Partnerships must be forged between governmental leaders and local farmers in the developing world to facilitate the ability of these countries to increase their crop yields, enhance resistance to pests and improve crop performance in challenging climates.
The challenges we face are daunting. But I remain confident that harnessing the innovation of our policymakers, scientists and farmers around the world will put us on track to feed the world and preserve its resources. Indeed, we have no other choice.
Tom Daschle, a Democrat, served as a senator from South Dakota from 1987 to 2005 and was Senate majority leader. He is a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, the distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center.