Recently I was in Des Moines, Iowa, to participate in events leading up to World Food Day. This day is observed each October 16th in recognition of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945. The first World Food Day was held in 1981. Its purpose is to increase worldwide awareness and year-round action to alleviate hunger.
On October 10, I had the honor of speaking to a large group of people at Iowa State University about the importance of the world producing enough food to feed its growing population. This is not just a moral issue, or an economic issue, or an agricultural issue. It is an issue of national security.
When you consider the challenges we face today—925 million people around the world were undernourished last year—and those we foresee in 30 to 40 years—a world population growing by one-third to more than 9 billion that will require a 70-percent increase in food production—you understand why the United States and the international community must tackle this serious, long-term threat.
We know that past approaches to solving global hunger were not enough. We need to increase both the sustainability and productivity of global agriculture so that food is available, accessible and usable to people everywhere. The United States has a responsibility to help other countries meet the challenge of global food security.
USDA’s approach relies on three principles:
Innovate. American farmers have embraced science and technology that emerged from the imagination, creativity and hard work of scientists at USDA, land-grant universities and the private sector. This cutting-edge research must be applied around the world to advance agricultural productivity.
Conserve. Increased productivity should not negatively affect the sustainability of natural resources. In the last 30 years alone, USDA has worked to help producers reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. Agriculture has gone from being the leading cause of wetland loss to leading the entire nation in wetland restoration efforts. U.S. farms help capture carbon emissions, mitigating climate change, and are using conservation methods to preserve water resources and clean the air.
Empower. Through the Presidential initiative called Feed the Future, the U.S. government is focused on building capacity in specific geographic regions and value chains within 20 targeted countries. Struggling countries help themselves by developing their own strategies to raise the productivity and incomes of small holder farmers. The United States, multilateral partners, and the private and non-governmental sectors, help these countries put their strategies into action.
The challenges of feeding a growing world are complex. But I am optimistic that the United States will continue to play a leading role in addressing this very real global threat.