May 20, 2015

Leveraging Innovation to Feed the Future: Increased Research Investment Needed to Meet Future Food Demand

A new Chicago Council report, Leveraging Innovation to Feed the Future, says that innovation will be essential to meeting future food needs driven by urbanization and population growth, especially in the face of rising temperatures, resource scarcity, and the increasing volatility of climate events. The report calls for increased US investments in agricultural research, puts forward essential innovation priorities and urges decision-makers to fund research with a long time horizon in mind. 

The new paper draws from the findings of previous Chicago Council reports that document trends in agricultural research and offer recommendations on how research can advance global food security and overcome challenges posed by climate change, undernutrition and the rising tide of chronic disease.

According to the report, in the 20th century increased productivity due to cropland expansion and scientific breakthroughs made it possible to grow the global food supply exponentially while keeping prices relatively low for most of the world’s consumers. However, this past success is being put at risk at a time when there are significant challenges facing the global food system.

The Chicago Council advises that the United States should leverage research and training to spur innovations that will overcome future food challenges. The newly established US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, the USDA, National Science Foundation, and research universities should reprioritize scientific agendas to recognize the most pressing agriculture and food needs.

In addition, research and development (R&D) is essential to sparking the innovations and approaches needed for today’s growers and food producers to increase productivity, produce more nutritious food, use fewer resources, and adapt to climate change. Doubling research investments in Sub-Saharan Africa would reduce poverty by 9 percent annually if accompanied by improvements in extension, credit, and input supply systems.

Moreover, while innovation to address today’s complex agricultural challenges is crucial, much can be gained from better utilizing existing science. Most Sub-Saharan African countries could potentially access at least 15 times (and, on average, nearly 600 times) their locally produced agricultural knowledge.

The United States needs to double investments in agricultural and food research over the next 10 years to help meet these challenges. It can begin by taking the following actions: Previous Chicago Council studies on which this report is based were authored by experts and endorsed by a wide range of thought leaders; they include: Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business; Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate; and Healthy Food for a Healthy World:  Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition. Data and analysis on US and global research investments were put forward in a Chicago Council report, Agricultural Innovation: The United States in a Changing Global Reality, authored by Philip Pardey and Jason Beddow from the University of Minnesota.



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.


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