April 19, 2017

Stability in the 21st Century: Expanding Research Capacity for Innovation in Agriculture

Lillian Gichuru works on improved maize varieties at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Credit: AGRA.

On March 30, the Council launched a new report, Stability in the 21st Century: Global Food Security for Peace and Prosperity, at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017. Each week, we will highlight one of the report’s recommendations on the Global Food for Thought blog. Watch for a new post each Wednesday, and join in the discussion using #GlobalAg.

Achieving global food and nutrition security in the decades to come will not be possible without the development and adoption of new agricultural and nutrition technologies, especially in the face of growing populations and water scarcity. Better IT platforms, data collection, and modeling can help improve the generation and sharing of information much more widely. And improvements in the mechanisms for traceability within an increasingly global food system will help to protect consumers globally, including in the United States, from threats to food safety.

Given these needs, the Council recommends that the United States prioritize public research investments to unlock innovation and harness new technologies for the agriculture, food, and nutrition sectors.

To accomplish this, the US government should take several actions:

Harness the unparalleled expertise of American universities and their research partners to solve the most pressing problems in agriculture, food, and nutrition at home and abroad.

The United States should create incentives and performance targets for its academic institutions to help build the extension, financial, human, and institutional capacities of partner institutions in low-income countries. At the same time, the United States should strengthen and prioritize partnerships and relationships that connect the unmatched expertise of American universities with universities and agricultural research institutions in low-income countries. In particular, demand-driven partnerships with US universities should be established through the creation of a “one-stop shop” for global researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to identify and solicit specific expertise from within the American university system.

American universities are also a tremendous resource for preparing the next generation of leaders in agriculture, food, and nutrition. The United States should significantly increase scholarship funding and expand opportunities for foreign students studying in US universities using US government funding alongside funding from the private sector, philanthropy, and other sources. And, US universities should bolster existing partnerships and build new relationships with universities within low-income countries for joint training programs and the sharing of mutually beneficial research and intellectual resources.

Expand support for the development of scientific and technological innovations that improve agricultural productivity, pest and disease resistance, supply chains, and nutrition.

The United States should increase its support for basic agricultural research—that is, research that does not have a specific application but feeds into future innovations and is necessary to develop the building blocks for broader solutions to food system challenges. The United States should invest in research on drought- and heat-resistant seeds and plants, new fertilizers, pest and disease resilience, soil fertility, off-grid power, postharvest loss prevention, biofortified food, and other related advances. Such advances would benefit American farmers and farmers in low- and middle-income countries alike. The United States should also expand research, innovative programs, and metrics aimed at improving water management, irrigation, and use of scarce or impaired water supplies that would benefit farmers at home and around the world.

Public research investments are essential, but private-sector research can and should make significant contributions, particularly in partnership with American institutions and their partners globally. The United States should encourage additional private-sector collaboration on crop and food research and innovation with both American and international educational institutions. And, without the adoption of existing research and knowledge as well as new research findings, food and nutrition security cannot advance. The United States should invest in social innovation and research to accelerate adoption of improved technologies, practices, nutritious foods, and healthy behaviors.

Develop new technology platforms to collect more and better data and improve communication of information among key stakeholders.

The United States should support entrepreneurs to consolidate, integrate, and scale IT systems that link suppliers, producers, buyers, extension workers, water experts, health providers, and related actors. The United States should establish shared digital global extension platforms that support farmers both in the United States and globally, linking actors across the global food system and developing data standards that can provide traceability and open market development opportunities.

The United States should continue leading—and expand—policies that support global open data for agriculture and nutrition. The United States should also lead the development of open-access global digital platforms for agricultural data standards and structures, technology approaches, and knowledge management developed in partnership with American universities and with global reach and influence.


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

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Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


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