Story by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, U.S. Department of Agriculture
As a daughter of farmers, and as someone who has spent her career working on behalf of farmers, one of the things I care most deeply about is the future of agriculture – both in the United States and around the world. That is why one of my highest priorities at USDA has been to help develop the next generation of farmers, ensuring that women, young people, and others have access to the programs and support they need to farm successfully.
As Deputy Secretary, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa, Central and South America. I’ve met many inspirational farmers from around the world, and while the languages we speak, the crops we grow, and the production methods we use may differ, one thing rings true in every conversation: we share the same passions and the same challenges in feeding a growing world population.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 795 million people around the world do not have access to an adequate supply of safe and nutritious food. The United Nations estimates that worldwide demand for food will increase 60 percent by 2050. With the world’s population expected to grow to between 9 and 10 billion in that same time frame, some experts have estimated it will take as much innovation in agriculture in the next 40 years as in the preceding 10,000 years to meet the growing demand for food. And our ability to feed, clothe and fuel these people has been severely challenged by the growing threat of climate change.
While those numbers may seem daunting, my travels as Deputy Secretary have given me a glimpse into the work USDA is doing in partnership with farmers around the world to address global food insecurity head on. Our approach for achieving global food security requires building agricultural production, fostering strong nutrition in schools worldwide and growing trade capacity.
A few weeks ago, I led a trade mission to Accra, Ghana where I was joined by representatives from 26 U.S. companies and agricultural commodity trade associations from across the United States. We met with potential customers from more than a dozen countries across Sub-Saharan Africa to explore potential new market opportunities. With a strong economic outlook, a growing middle class, and surging demand for consumer-oriented foods, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions for U.S. agricultural exports.
On the same trip, I visited a local cacao farm and saw firsthand the security and opportunity that successful cocoa production can bring to rural communities. In these communities, the contributions of women to global food security could not be more apparent. Women constitute the majority of the workforce and do the work of harvesting, sorting, and roasting the cocoa nuts. Many of them spoke with me about their deep pride and passion for the land—something they share in common with farmers in the United States.
In Ghana, I also announced two Food for Progress agreements that support agricultural development and trade within Ghana’s poultry sector. USDA and its partners stand ready to help Ghanaian farmers as they look to improve the health and quality of their poultry flocks, increase farm income and improve operational efficiencies. By leveraging the strengths of our partners across the federal government, the scientific community, and the Land-Grant University System, USDA continues to be a leader in global agricultural research. USDA researchers have sequenced the genome of wheat and the wheat stem rust pathogen; worked to combat aflatoxin in maize; and are helping to develop a safe and economically sustainable vaccine for the pathogen that causes East Coast Fever, a devastating disease of cattle of eastern Africa. By working with farmers around the world, we can help to advance the latest research and technology and improve global agricultural productivity.
Ensuring good nutrition is available to children around the world is another crucial part of global food security. Last spring in rural Honduras, I had a chance to visit with elementary school girls who were enthusiastic about learning and actively engaged in their school gardens through a McGovern-Dole program. Not only are these girls being fed but they are getting educated about nutrition, food safety and sanitation, knowledge they take back to their families.
Another significant threat to the ability of farms, ranches and forests to meet global needs for food, fiber and fuel is climate change. In order to meet that demand, our producers have to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change and the severe weather that comes with it. Today, Secretary Vilsack announced the release of the interagency assessment report, “Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System.” While the report itself is global in scope, its findings address the pressing issue of how climate change will affect the U.S. food system. This report will help us better understand, among other things, specific food security risks and vulnerabilities due to climate change.
Building on USDA’s work with farmers and ranchers at home, last year, President Obama issued an executive order requiring that climate resilience also be taken into account in all U.S. international development programming. For example, USDA is a key member of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Feed the Future supports global food security through in-country capacity building, basic and applied research, and support for improved market information, statistics and analysis. Around the world, USDA has helped to train small farmers and foreign officials on plant and animal health systems, risk analysis, and avoiding post-harvest loss; completed assessments on climate change; and helped to increase agricultural productivity. The United States was also one of the founding members of the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture, which was launched in September 2014 and aims to improve integrate climate change planning into agricultural development and assistance worldwide.
To help promote climate-smart agriculture, USDA directly supports international cooperation and development projects. For example, last year we supported 11 Borlaug Fellows to work on climate change topics. This program allows agricultural scientists from around the world to work side-by-side with U.S. scientists on finding ways to increase food production while mitigating the effects of climate change.
Our initial efforts are paying off, but we cannot rest until everyone has sufficient nutrition to lead active, healthy lives. The question now is whether we can continue to make progress, together, in the face of a changing climate and increasing world population. Because attaining global food security is important not only to hundreds of millions of hungry people, but to the sustainable economic growth of developing nations and the long-term economic prosperity of the United States. As we help countries become more food secure and raise incomes, we also enhance export opportunities for American producers. That is why, from farm to port, from nutrition to food safety, from helping farmers to feeding children, USDA uses the full force of all of its resources to improve food security around the world.