Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series
Participating in The Chicago Council's Global Food Security Symposium 2015 as a part of the Next Generation Delegation was a unique and valuable experience. I gained insight into the working field of improving agricultural systems and food security, learned about interesting projects, and met fellow researchers and policy makers.
One topic at the Symposium that was less familiar to me was the subject of biotechnology in the context of food security. As an ecologist with a focus on water resources, I am not used to the strong emphasis on biotechnology. In my opinion, biotechnological aspects should be part of the discussion on how to increase yields, but they should not be included at the expense of ecological sustainability of environmental and agricultural systems. Water, especially, is among the most important natural resources and should be included more in the discussion.
Although water is one of the most relevant inputs for a working agricultural system, many examples inside and outside of the United States demonstrate that the sustainable use of this resource is not emphasized enough. The current water shortage in California due to failed agricultural groundwater management underscores that water is not an infinite resource. Institutional rules governing water access can promote the sustainable use of water, as they have already done in different parts of the world. For example, pumping restrictions for farmers in Nebraska began more than 30 years ago. Examples like this should be promoted to demonstrate how to sustain agricultural systems in the long term.
In addition to ensuring the sustainability of water resources, we should discuss how to increase the availability of water, especially in the developing world. South of the Sahara, where the problem of malnutrition is among the most severe, 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas in which rain-fed agriculture is the main or only source of livelihood. In those areas, rain-fed agriculture not only mandates that agricultural production stop during the dry season, but also results in cereal crops of limited nutritional content and low market value. Irrigated agriculture in those regions could both increase production of crops and livestock, and reduce vulnerability to droughts and climate change. Therefore, part of the discussion of increasing food security should also include how to place smart investments and trigger public support for irrigated agriculture in developing countries.
Water as one of the main factors for a reliable working agricultural system should assume a more important role in the discussion of improving global nutrition. A broader discussion including the sustainability of environmental resources would be congruent with The Chicago Council’s recommendation to promote sustainability and reduce environmental impacts, and would contribute to the commitment of a long term global food and nutrition security strategy.
Read previous posts in the Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series:
- Food Systems for Improved Health: Dairy Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, Bettie Kawonga, PhD Candidate, University of Kentucky
- An Interdisciplinary Approach: The Need for Social Scientists in the Fight against Food Insecurity, Tara Mittelberg, BS Candidate, Northwestern University
- Global Agri-Food Systems: Where We’ve Come From, and Where We Are Going, Kelly Hodgins, MA Candidate, University of Guelph
- Biotechnology and Global Nutrition: Progress and Headwinds, Martin Erzinger, MBA Candidate, University of Virginia
- Shame in the City? How the Urban Poor Experience Social Exclusion and Food Insecurity in Kampala Slums, Diana Caley, PhD Candidate, New York University
- Scalable, Repeatable, and Sustainable: The Need for Private Sector Investment to Achieve Lasting Food Security, Erin Lenhardt, MBA Candidate, University of Chicago
- Food Security from a Micro Perspective: Why Bigger Isn't Always Better, Elise Ellinger, MPP Candidate, University of Minnesota
- Nutrition Education as a Multisectoral Response, Matthew Graziose, PhD Candidate, Columbia University
- Africa's Great Potential for Increased Food Production and Improved Nutrition, Esther Nampeera Lugwana, PhD in Horticulture, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
- Leveraging Women's Empowerment in Agriculture, Soumya Gupta, PhD Candidate in Applied Economics, Cornell University
- Healthy Soils, Healthy People: Integrating Soil Science into Nutrition Security, Andrew Margenot, PhD Candidate in Soil Science & Biogeochemistry, University of California, Davis
- The Importance of Understanding Urban Food Flows, Dana Boyer, PhD candidate in Science, Technology and Public Policy, University of Minnesota
- Genetic Engineering: A Tool to Strengthen Global Food Security, Megan Fenton, PhD Student in Agronomy - Plant Breeding and Genetics, Purdue University
- Edible Insects as an Integrated Component of Sustainable Food Systems, Afton Halloran, GREEiNSECT and Social Science and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen