May 24, 2013

Live Blog - Chicago Council: The challenges are immense, but our capacity is unlimited, says Secretary Vilsack

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder, Food Tank

Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) painted a complex, challenging, but also hopeful landscape of the food and agriculture policy of the United States. His keynote address highlighted major accomplishments: the quadrupling of money going to agriculture development in developing countries (it now totals over one billion dollars), the discovery of 14 different varieties of wheat that are more resistant to wheat rust, and the formation of 70 partnerships between private sector companies and the USDA to improve production and productivity.

Vilsack also acknowledged some of the challenges. In order to feed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, the world will need to match the increases in productivity of the past 10,000 years in the next 40 years. Climate change puts stress on crops and livestock, and also reduces the resiliency of agriculture. He stated that we must “challenge ourselves to address climate change in a meaningful and significant way.”

The key areas of focus are applied research, capacity building, partnerships, and markets. Vilsack is part of an aggressive push by the Obama Administration to reform food aid and agriculture policies. Vilsack described a key reform as “combining capacity to purchase American products with purchasing products in developing countries,” which is more efficient and timely. This would also give food aid purchasing power to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Farm Bill—which Vilsack reframed as the “Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill”—is perhaps one of the most critical areas of discussion in current food and agriculture policy. Vilsack noted the power of the American farmer: 32,000 farm families, less than one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. population—produce fifty percent of total U.S. agricultural production. This bill is fundamental in shaping the future of not only food and agriculture in the United States, but also issues relating to hunger and poverty around the world.

Despite the immense challenges facing food and agriculture policy makers, scientists, and community advocates, Vilsack stated, “The limitation is simply the capacity of the imagination, which we know is unlimited.” He went on to say that we must unleash human capacity and also be willing to share it, transferring knowledge to other countries. The power of science and innovation are central to feeding the world.


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.


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


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