July 25, 2014

Widening the Global Food Basket to Promote Climate-Smart Agriculture

At the Global Food Security Symposium 2014, The Chicago Council hosted this year’s Next Generation Delegation, composed of 14 students from land-grant and research universities who plan to enter the agriculture and food sector upon graduation. Beginning this week, The Global Food for Thought blog will feature the delegates’ insights and expertise in a weekly Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series.

'By Marcia Croft, Candidate for MS in Horticulture at Purdue University and 2014 Next Generation Delegate

As the recent Global Food Security Symposium 2014 highlighted, the unlikely marriage between agricultural development and climate change policy has brought stakeholders from diverse backgrounds together. The irrefutable linkages between these two issues have forced people from both the private and public sectors to work together to find common ground, and have inspired partnerships between unlikely allies. Building climate-smart agricultural systems challenges us to reevaluate dogma and look in unexpected places for solutions to new and increasingly severe food crises. This pushes us to ask why we currently obtain 90 percent of our food from just 30 plant species out of the approximately 30,000 edible plant species. What is the place for this agrobiodiversity in our increasingly food insecure world?

Establishing climate-smart agriculture must include building resilient agroecosystems. It has been shown time and again that diverse ecosystems are the most resilient. If we are to survive—and even thrive—under the conditions that climate change will bring about, we need to work with stakeholders from across sectors to diversify farms and diets. In particular, we must highlight the underutilized plant species that may have a strong local or international market to boost farm profits and help manage risk—that is, if one crop fails, there may be many others to depend on. Numerous Symposium speakers and panelists echoed this call for “climate-proof” crops as a goal to which we can all aspire.

Diverse diets also boost nutritional security. Though the last Green Revolution dramatically increased grain yields around the world, larger grain yields alone are not enough for a healthy population.  Micronutrients from fruits and vegetables are critical for health and are important to growing children especially. This issue was highlighted in the Symposium panel on "The Climate-Food Nexus and What It Means for Conflict, Economic Growth, and Sustainability." During this discussion, panelist Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, emphasized the importance of nutritional security in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Accordingly, though much of the focus on agricultural research and development has been dedicated to commodity crops, a renewed interest in local specialty crops and forgotten heirlooms can tie agricultural sustainability, ecosystem resilience, and nutritional security together.

Finding ways to build bridges between diverse sectors can help create healthy communities and profitable agricultural systems. As increasing climate variability and extreme weather events become the new norm, we need to recognize the hidden gems we may already have in our toolkit of edible species. Building these bridges will require more work but, as the Symposium highlighted, many dedicated people across sectors and across the world are ready and willing to fight for food security in a rapidly changing 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.


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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.