October 7, 2014 | By

USDA Secretary Vilsack on Innovation in Agriculture


On October 6, 2014, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on how innovation in US agriculture is helping to reduce hunger and advance a safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply both in the US and abroad. Vilsack, who was welcomed by Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture and cochair of The Chicago Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative, highlighted the importance of continued innovation and US leadership in agriculture in order to address the most pressing global problems that we currently face.

Secretary Vilsack emphasized the important role of agriculture in the face of threats from climate change, highlighting the Obama administration's launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture  at the UN Climate Summit in September. The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture aims to increase agricultural productivity worldwide, ensure agriculture’s resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. He also heralded the value of agricultural research, particularly in the face of climate change. Earlier this year, he said, USDA established the Open Data Initiative to “open the vault” of USDA data to scientists worldwide.  Secretary Vilsack also recognized the importance of partnership with the private sector, and emphasized the USDA’s belief in “a science and rules-based system to spur innovation.” He noted the creation of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research in the most recent Farm Bill, noting that the US government’s investment, to be matched by the private sector, has created a $400 million investment in agricultural research.

Secretary Vilsack also outlined the role of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative in supporting agricultural production throughout the developing world, noting that is has assisted over 7.4 million farmers and 3.8 million hectares of land worldwide. Feed the Future is a country-led program, he said, in which the US listens and responds to countries, rather than dictating policy. Recently, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would make Feed the Future, whose programs include credit systems for smallholder farmers, trade and export assistance, data collection, and improved storage of crops to avoid loss, a permanent fixture of USAID’s programs. Secretary Vilsack encouraged such legislative action, stating:

“We hope that Congress takes action to institutionalize the Feed the Future program—to institutionalize the training, credit programs, data collection, market access and export programs—in this global food security legislation. We hope Congress will pass it, because it is the right way to approach these issues, and the most innovative way.”

As the world’s population grows closer to 9 billion, Secretary Vilsack observed, every tool and innovation will be necessary to ensure global food security. Noting that over 70 percent of the world’s farmers are women, he paid particular attention to the important contributions of women in agriculture, both in the US and internationally. “We need the ideas, focus, and direction that women in particular can bring,” he remarked. He concluded: “Agriculture is a big deal,” assuring that agriculture has the capacity—and ability—to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.


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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