Public awareness of agriculture's vital role in our society was the simple idea that led to the establishment of National Ag Day in 1973. This year, in addition to events held around the country, a statue of legendary plant breeder Dr. Norman Borlaug was unveiled in a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, Dr. Borlaug warned that the struggle against hunger had not been won. “We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts,” he said.
We would do well to remember those words. The need to confront agricultural challenges honestly and directly has not changed. While U.S. agriculture, in all its forms, produces varied, abundant and safe food, one billion people around the world, and 50 million in the U.S., remain food insecure. Yet, simultaneously, more than one third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of U.S. children are obese and highly vulnerable to early-onset chronic disease. According to the World Health Organization, in 2008, 11 percent of adults age 20 and older worldwide were obese.
Clearly, agricultural production and global productivity must increase to meet the food needs of a population projected to reach more than 9 billion people by 2050. Yet agriculture is already bumping up against resource limits in many parts of the world. How will future demand for food be met while conserving water, air, soil and habitat for future generations?
I would argue that meeting the food and agriculture challenges of an ever more populous, resource limited world will require new approaches to problem-solving and new partnerships between diverse and previously unconnected individuals and groups. I would also argue that we need a lot more honest dialogue and a lot less polarization and demonization in our discussions about the future of agriculture if we expect to be able to chart a better future for our planet and achieve the success everyone professes to want.
At AGree, our Co-Chairs, and more than 30 Advisors from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, are developing recommendations and strategies for change that recognize the connectivity -- and the complexity -- of food and ag issues. They have done this by establishing collective goals, by reaching out and soliciting input from hundreds of additional individuals and groups, and developing consensus recommendations for policy change and action by the private sector. Listening to a variety of perspectives has helped us integrate issues that often occupy separate silos.
Our recommendations will recognize that there are fundamental linkages between achieving productivity, profitability, and environmental outcomes in production systems. We are developing strategies that can improve community health through food and nutrition; help developing countries grow more of their own food through a food-systems-focused international development program; achieve a stable, legal workforce; improve the innovation process; and help local and regional food systems succeed and build thriving markets. We will then work with partners to build support for actions that further these goals.
Our vision is for a world in which people everywhere have access to affordable food that is nutritious and safe and promotes their health and well-being. The food and agriculture future can be bright, but it will take innovation, new ideas from many quarters and the courage to trust one another and work collaboratively for positive change.
Deborah Atwood is the executive director of AGree