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:
- Forge a new science of agriculture to increase productivity sustainably, nutritiously, and economically. Production must be increased while using fewer resources, improving nutrition, and providing solid incomes to food producers.
- Build research capacity. Support for university and research institutions in developing countries is critical to innovations that work in the local context.
- Bolster research on climate change. Research must focus on building resilience and addressing threats to the food system by climate change.
- Expand nutrition-sensitive agricultural research. Nutrition should be a key priority of research to combat chronic malnutrition.
- Reduce food waste. Innovations for reducing food waste are vital to help offset the production needed to meet increased demand.
- Alene, Arega D., and Coulibaly Ousame. “The Impact of Agricultural Research on Productivity and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Food Policy 34, no. 2 (2009): 198-209.
- The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2013.
- Iverson, Louise. “Wasted Food, Wasted Nutrients.” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, February 25, 2015.
- Jones, Andrew D. Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2015.
- Nelson, Gerald C. Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2014.
- Pardey, Philip G., and Jason Beddow. Agricultural Innovation: The United States in a Changing Global Reality. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, April 2013.