July 29, 2014 | By

White House: Empowering the Agricultural Sector and Strengthening Food Resilience

President Obama has convened leaders from the food, agriculture, and technology industries to discuss ways these companies are leveraging open government data, related information tools, and other innovations as the Administration unveils the Climate Data Initiative’s “Food Resilience” theme. Beginning with the meeting of industry leaders and the new data initiative theme, the Administration aims to empower America’s agricultural sector and strengthen the resilience of the global food system in a changing climate.

In response to the President’s call for tools to increase the resiliency of the US and global food systems against the impacts of climate change, the meeting includes a number of commitments by Federal agencies and private-sector collaborators to leverage the power of open government data to drive innovation. These collaborators include:

  • World Wildlife Fund, which is combining detailed agricultural, water, and economic data from its Water Risk Filter to help better assess and manage water risks in the agro-commodity supply chains. The United-Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment has formed an investor group to address the risks from climate change to companies with agricultural supply chains using data from WWF and PricewaterhouseCoopers; 
  • Microsoft, which will co-host a series of workshops, webinars, and an “app-athon” with the USDA on the value of open-data and data-driven tools to boost climate preparedness and resilience in the agricultural sector and launch a climate-change-focused Innovation Challenge to inspire the development of new tools and services that harness data available;
  • PepsiCo, which is installing a 1.7 megawatt solar photovoltaic system designed to supply 3.3 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy for manufacturing operations; 
  • Monsanto, which will donate a multi-site/multi-year maize breeding trial dataset to open data portals, maintained by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the Agricultural Model Intercomparison & Improvement Project, in order to improve models being used to understand how climate and water-availability changes will impact crop productivity and food security.

The Obama Administration has also made its own commitments, such as hosting agricultural innovation workshops and expanding climate.data.gov to make data about risks of climate change to food production, supply, and nutrition more open and available to researchers and innovators.

In a joint statement on the White House Blog, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, discussed the impact of climate change on food security and the need for collaborative action and innovation through climate data in order to build agricultural resilience:

More intense heat waves, heavier downpours, and severe droughts and wildfires out west are already affecting the nation’s ability to produce and transport safe food. The National Climate Assessment makes clear that these kinds of impacts are projected to become more severe over this century. Food distributors, agricultural businesses, farmers, and retailers need accessible, useable data, tools, and information to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of their operations—from water availability, to timing of planting and harvest, to storage practices, and more.

The meeting followed the release of a new White House report which outlines the economic consequences of delaying action to stem climate change. The report finds that delaying policy actions by a decade increases total mitigation costs by approximately 40 percent, and failing to take any action would risk substantial economic damage.

Previously, the Obama Administration also released National Climate Assessment in May 2014, which confirmed that climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing, are projected to become more severe over this century, and that these disruptions will have consequences for food security, both nationally and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices, as well as effects on food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing. Building on the National Climate Assessment, The Chicago Council’s report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate, explains how higher temperatures, changes in rainfall and natural disasters caused by climate change could undermine food production and put food supplies at risk. The report calls on the US government to integrate climate change adaptation into its global food security strategy, and its recommendations include a call for collecting better data and making information on weather more widely available to farmers.

About

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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