May 21, 2013

Commentary - What Would Norm Say?

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @globalagdev and #globalag on twitter to join the conversation on May 21st.
 

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
President, The World Food Prize Foundation

Given the decade-long relationship I had with him in building the World Food Prize, I am sometimes asked about what the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug might say about a particular topic.

So, if Norm, as everyone knew him, were still here, you might wonder how he would react to the new report just issued by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, entitled Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade and Business.

Dr. Borlaug was a phlegmatic Norwegian from northeast Iowa and not given to wild outbursts of emotion, so I am not sure that he would have actually hugged the two co-chairs who directed the preparation of this report: World Food Prize laureate Catherine Bertini and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. But most certainly he would have told them how extremely pleased he was with the great emphasis that the report puts on the critical importance of science.

Norm was about the primacy of science in agriculture from his days growing up on the farm. His earliest ambition (aside from playing second base for the Chicago Cubs) was to be a high school science teacher. We all can be grateful that, during his time at the University of Minnesota, he became enthralled with the challenge of confronting rust disease that took him to a Ph.D. in plant pathology and then to Mexico and the start of the Green Revolution in India and Pakistan.

Dr. Borlaug, therefore, would have certainly embraced Recommendation 1 of the report about making global food security a high priority of U.S. policy. One of the very first things Norm ever shared with me was how dismayed he was at the downward trend in terms of funding for agricultural research. He believed that the U.S. leadership in global agriculture, in which he played such a significant role of over the past sixty years, could slip away if the funding and priority were not maintained by the president and the congress.

I believe Norm would have felt just as strongly about Recommendation 2, calling for a new science of agriculture based on “sustainable intensification,” an approach also advocated by his great friend Sir Gordon Conway in a 2013 Montpellier Panel Report. Norm’s partner in pioneering the Green Revolution, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the first World Food Prize laureate, has advocated that agricultural advances must take place in the context of “An Ever-Green Revolution.” Norm agreed completely

A third element in the report, which I feel certain Norman Borlaug would agree with deals with the dramatic variations of weather now occurring. Climate volatility is one more area where science and - Norm would emphasize this in bold letters - biotechnology has a special role to play. If we are to be able to increase the amount of food produced on the land now in cultivation and to accomplish this in the face of new challenges of drought, flooding, and salt water intrusion (to mention but a few), then he would argue all aspects of science, including biotechnology, must be available.

In 2006 at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue symposium in Des Moines, Norm sat on the stage with Sir Gordon, Dr. Rajiv Shah (then the leader of the Gates Foundation Global Agriculture project), Catherine Bertini, and Dr. Chen Zhangliang to review just what the priorities should be for global agricultural strategy. Many of the ideas they discussed that day  can now be seen coming to fruition in terms of the U.S. Feed the Future initiative, the Gates Foundation Global Strategy, and now this Chicago Council Report.

So as we approach our year-long Centennial Observance of Dr. Norman’s Borlaug’s birth this coming October, it would be good to remember his very last words, “Take it to the farmer.” The ‘it’ that Norm was talking about was the science of agriculture and all of the ways in which it can enhance the lives of all of those poorest and most food insecure citizens of our planet.

So what would Norm say? I think he would first say “Thank you” to Catherine Bertini, Dan Glickman, Marshall Bouton, and Lisa Eakman and all of the members of their Chicago Council team who produced this exceptional report.

I think Norm would say “Take this science to those farmers in Africa and around the globe, particularly the smallholder farmers, whose fate and well-being will hang in the balance in decades ahead.”

*Full Disclosure: It was my privilege to serve as a member of the advisory group that help develop this remarkable overview of the challenges facing the international community in the 21st century, as well as shape its targeted recommendations in regard to U.S. policy on global agriculture.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

Archive

| By Lisa Moon

Guest Commentary - Reduce Food Loss & Waste, Feed Millions

Studies show that one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, enough to feed 1.9 billion people-almost the same amount as are experiencing food insecurity. Food banks are uniquely positioned to address the paradox of global hunger and food loss and waste. 


| By Colin Christensen , Eva Koehler

Guest Commentary - The Plague You’ve Never Heard About Could be as Destructive as COVID-19: How the Threat from Desert Locusts Shows the Need for Innovations in how Organizations Scale

The international community needs to mobilize to combat the plague of locusts devouring East Africa. At the same time however, we should also consider the long-term investments we must make to build lasting resilience to climate change among smallholder populations.




| By Sarah Bingaman Schwartz, Maria Jones

Guest Commentary - Reducing Food Loss and Waste by Improving Smallholder Storage

Reducing postharvest losses by half would result in enough food to feed a billion people, increase smallholder income levels and minimize pressure on natural resources. The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss works with smallholders in Bihar to improve storage and reduce loss. 








| By Mark Titterington

Guest Commentary - A European perspective on the journey to a regenerative agriculture system…

Regenerative farming practices can lead to improved soil health and farm productivity and profitability, boosting crop quality and yields, improving the resilience of farms to extreme weather events and reducing the propensity for soil degradation and run-off, but most excitingly, creates the opportunity to actually draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere in agriculture soils.


| By Peter Carberry

Field Notes - Brokering Research Crucial for Climate-Proofing Drylands

9 out of 12 interventions identified for agriculture by the Global Commission on Adaptation involve research and development. For smallholder farmers in drylands, some of the most vulnerable to climate change, the role of innovation brokers may prove just as important as doing the science itself.