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Officials Represent USDA at Future of Food Conference

Tomorrow, Secretary Vilsack and I will participate in the Future of Food, Food Security for the 21st Century conference, which is sponsored by The Washington Post. I am pleased to see the topic of food security getting such attention, as I believe it’s one of the biggest challenges we face now and in the next 50 years. As director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), I believe NIFA has a crucial role to play in addressing these challenges.

We are facing a “9 billion challenge,” in that the global population is projected to hit 9 billion by the year 2050. This challenge presents what I call wicked problems that require us to find ways to feed, clothe, shelter all people, and meet their energy needs, without wreaking havoc on the environment.

The 9 billion challenge also has major implications on the way we fund science at NIFA. We must align our science with the challenges of the day. There are five major areas that are affected by the rising population that must be addressed beginning now: food security and hunger, sustainable energy, food safety, childhood obesity, and climate change.

These problems also require us to rethink how we deploy the best science and resources to address the challenges. The federal and state governments, while having a primary and significant role, do not have the monetary and intellectual resources needed to tackle these wicked problems. It’s going to require a renewed and different compact of public/private partnerships. No one entity has the market cornered on dealing with these challenges.

The public partners will include local, state, and federal agencies within the United States. The private partners must include the non-governmental organizations, commodity groups, small private sector firms, and the corporate sector. The academic partners will not only include our traditional partners and Land-Grant universities, but will also bring in the entire educational system from K-12 to all public and private universities. Since we are addressing global challenges, we need to crowdsource—leveraging the monetary and intellectual resources of global partners, public or private.

I’ve only been at NIFA for a little more than a month, but my long career within the Land-Grant university system has demonstrated to me that NIFA serves as a one-stop shop for our nation’s food, agriculture, energy, fiber, shelter needs, and the environment. By making the right investments in science at the right time, NIFA enables the scientific community to make great discoveries that can be turned into innovations to help us meet our future food needs, while promoting jobs and the economy.

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