Why Adesina’s Election is Important for Agriculture

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

In a surprise upset, Dr. Akinwumi (Akin) Adesina was elected to be the next President of the African Development Bank (ADB), defeating seven rivals in six rounds of voting.  Adesina holds a PhD in agriculture economics from Purdue and has been serving as the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria since 2011.

Adesina is the first agriculture economist to become President of the ADB.  He is a dynamic leader with a passion for rural development (and bow-ties).  According to The Guardian, under his leadership in Nigeria, “food production increased by 22 million tons and food imports dropped more than a third,” creating some three million jobs.

The ADB is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions, making Adesina one of the continent’s most prominent financial leaders. Africa now has six of the world’s fastest growing economies and, as agriculture becomes more efficient, the economy will grow even faster. Over 65% of the population farms or is engaged in agriculture. However, yields are so low that feeding a family takes 70% the its disposable income and Africa must spend $35 billion to import food.

Adesina’s goal is to make Africa globally competitive.  Upon his election he said, “A big thing for us in Africa is to create an inclusive model with jobs for Africa’s youth, jobs for Africa’s women, revive Africa’s rural areas and have regional integration for shared prosperity.” He also noted that “there is no developing Africa without empowering women.”

The challenge Adesina faces will not be easy.  Political stability varies widely in Africa’s 54 sovereign nations as does infrastructure, education and health care, but things are clearly changing and changing fast.

Adesina will have some important allies to work with in his new capacity:

  • The Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nikosazana Diamini- Zuma, is asking all African countries to invest at least 10% of their respective national budgets in agriculture.  The program, called the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), is having an impact.
  • Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the new President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) holds a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in entomology.  She was the Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda and was widely considered to be one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa.  At AGRA, Dr. Kalibata is working with African experts in some 18 counties to fulfill the vision of food self-sufficiency.
  • Strive Masiyiwa, the Chairman and CEO of Econet Wireless, is the “Bill Gates of Africa” according to Forbes, but is focusing the attention of Africa’s private sector on agriculture through his work with AGRA and Grow Africa.
  • Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chairman Emeritus of AGRA,  says “it’s time to turn hoes into tractors,” and is committed to helping through the Kofi Annan Foundation.

These African leaders are working closely with the G-7, G-20 and key leaders closer to home here in the United States. Those leaders include: Gayle Smith, who is an Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director at the National Security Council. In that capacity, Smith is responsible for global development and helped to craft the Camp David Accords creating a commitment to African agriculture.

During the Clinton Administration, Smith was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.  President Obama has now nominated Smith to be the next Director of the Agency for International Development (AID). Smith is well-qualified for the AID position and hopefully, the U.S. Senate will quickly confirm her nomination.

While there are many others committed to growing Africa out of poverty, in the U.S., special recognition must also go to Pamela Anderson at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Judith Rodin at the Rockefeller Foundation.

All of these people are coming together for Africa. The Renaissance is underway and the election of Dr. Akin Adesina is the latest very important development. According to Dr. Adesina, “The kind of Africa we need today is an Africa where the young people want to stay, not a place they want to move away from…and an Africa we can all be proud to call home.”

As Adesina knows, agriculture development must be at the center of the African Renaissance. As modern seeds and inputs, along with education, reache the stallholder farmers, production and profitability will improve. That will drive the African economy to new levels of success and, in the process, move Africa and the world toward food security.

The African Development Bank made an inspired choice.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  He also serves as the DC representative for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Tonight: Global Child Nutrition Foundation Honors USDA Secretary Vilsack

By Peter B. Matz

Secretary Vilsack

Please join the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) and its partners in honoring Secretary Vilsack for his remarkable achievements in child nutrition. GCNF’s Annual Gala has become a signature Washington event, bringing together executives from industry as well as high-level officials from both government and NGO’s.  It will take place tonight, from 5:30-7:30 PM, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.  Details below.

The Gala raises funds for GCNF’s efforts to end child hunger by helping developing countries establish sustainable school feeding programs. At this moment, over 350 million hungry children live in extreme poverty throughout the world. School feeding programs nourish children, provide an incentive for children to go to school, and help lift children, their families and their communities out of poverty.

Global Child Nutrition Foundation’s Annual Gala Reception Honoring

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Thursday, April 16 2015

5:30pm-7:30pm

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20004

More information at www.gcnf.org

Secretary Tom Vilsack

Throughout his long and distinguished career in public service, Secretary Vilsack has demonstrated his commitment to the nutritional well-being of children at home and abroad. As Governor of Iowa, Vilsack created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition.  At USDA, Secretary Vilsack is a key Cabinet leader on global food security and served as one of the primary architects of President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative launched in 2009. Under his leadership, USDA has contributed to improved global food security by focusing on capacity building to improve markets information, food safety systems, basic and applied research and innovations in agricultural productivity.

In 2013, Secretary Vilsack led U.S. efforts on the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, which seeks to support global efforts to make agricultural and nutritionally relevant data available, accessible, and usable for unrestricted use worldwide in order to improve consumer health and expand economic opportunities for farmers. Building on those efforts, in 2014, Secretary Vilsack led the launch of U.S. participation in the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, a global effort to share knowledge and practices to address climate change and its impact on agriculture and chart a new path forward towards greater global food security.

Secretary Vilsack continues to be a strong voice for improving the nutritional quality of domestic child nutrition programs and has focused USDA’s McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program on meeting rigorous nutrition and literacy goals. Child nutrition programs in the United States have become global models of excellence under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership and commitment.

The Vilsapp: Secretary Vilsack’s High Tech Solution to Labeling

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The March edition of the National Geographic Magazine, in its cover story entitled “The War on Science,” notes that “there’s no evidence that GMO’s are harmful to human health.” A recent Pew poll found that 90% of all scientists believe GMO’s are safe but only 37% of the public agrees. In short, the public is skeptical and is seeking more information about foods made with genetic engineering. We live in an era of transparency, open data and the world-wide web. It is difficult to deny consumers the right to know what is in their food. And given the safety of genetic engineering, there is no reason to block that information.

The question on the table is how to do this in a nationally-uniform, unbiased manner? To allow each of fifty states to have its own labeling scheme would be confusing, very expensive, bad public policy and, in my opinion, unconstitutional. It would be as crazy as having fifty different Dietary Guidelines or fifty different Nutrition Facts panels on the foods we buy.

Secretary VilsackAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has a better idea: a smartphone application that can scan a bar code on the food package and tell the consumer what is in the product. He took his idea to Congress last month. His idea is a very modern and clever solution to address the desire for more information about the foods we consume.

There is only so much room on the food label. So, Secretary Vilsack is suggesting a symbol on the food label that connects to a database that can tell those consumers who want such information whether there is an ingredient in the food produced with genetic engineering. According to a recent edition of the Economist, “about half of the adult population owns a smartphone; by 2020, 80% will. Smartphones have also penetrated every aspect of daily life.” For those without smartphones, there could be in-store computers or scanners.

Dr. Cathy Enright, VP for Agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), posted a blog last month that said:

“I also support a right-to-know. In 21st century America, consumers are increasingly asking questions about how their food is grown and made. We all need to be working together to provide that information, in a way that doesn’t misinform consumers. Have you seen USDA Secretary Vilsack’s idea….using a bar code or other code on a food package or sticker?”

Last year, Cardinal Peter Turkson, speaking on behalf of the Vatican, said we must use biotechnology to feed the world’s expanding population, but also supported the idea of transparency to provide information to consumers who desire such information. The Vatican seems to be in agreement with the Secretary and those who believe in both the safety of genetic engineering and the moral imperative of using science to feed the hungry, but also the consumers’ right to know.

Nutrition FactsUSDA and HHS will issue a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and the FDA are seeking to put more information on the actual food label. It is time to use technology to expand the physical size of the label.

Every industry seems to be using technology to the maximum possible extent. The food industry should follow suit. There are questions that would still have to be resolved as with any app: who would maintain the data base? What would be the definition of genetic modification and would there be some threshold that triggers the GE designation? What happens with foods that used a GE ingredient where it was then processed out of the product and there is no trace in the final food?

These are all challenging questions that would have to be resolved. But this much is clear, there must be federal preemption of state labeling schemes and a uniform national system established. To date, the labeling campaign has been pushed as an attack on genetic engineering as a part of the larger war on science. Information should be provided, not as a scare tactic and warning, but just as factual information for those who care.

Perhaps there is a better idea than the Vilsack App, but this idea sure deserves serious attention. On March 5th, at the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FDA budget, Dr. Hamburg reiterated that FDA does not see mandatory labeling as appropriate if there’s not a significant change to the product. If the process changes the nature of the product, then it would have to be labeled. She also said FDA supports individual companies that want to voluntarily label products and plans to issue a guidance to guide them in the near future. Dr. Hamburg should include the Vilsapp as a way of providing consumer information and include it in the guidance that FDA issues.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a guide to some of the terms being used on supermarket egg cartons. They include Organic, Cage-Free, Free-Range, All Natural, Pasture Raised, and Vegetarian Fed and Omega-3. The Vilsapp could help the confused consumer better understand these terms as well.

In short, the Vilsapp is a creative idea that could provide the transparency deemed important by consumers and also preempt the need for state legislation. The need for state preemption is paramount and was emphasized by all of the witnesses at the House Agriculture Hearing on March 24th.

Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the Senior Science Advisor at OFW Law, concluded her testimony with the following: “We will need to produce more crops per drop of water and square meter of land” in order to feed 9 to 10 billion of people. Genetic modification is not a magic bullet but is safe and an important part of the arsenal needed to defeat food insecurity.

A patch quilt of different state labeling schemes would be a barrier to global food security. Transparency and full disclosure is reasonable but it must be done with a national system that is based on sound science and provides objective information.

Mr. Collin Peterson, the Ranking Member, summed it up best: “When it comes to labeling, we need to be able to find a smart way to balance the consumer demand with what we know about the safety of the foods that our farmers produce.” Sounds like a Vilsapp.

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, specializes in agriculture and nutrition at OFW Law.

GM Opponents are Science Deniers

Climate change is real and GM technology is safe, but those in denial want to undermine the public understanding of science with misinformation and pseudo-debate

By Nina Fedoroff, Peter Raven and Phillip Sharp, as published in The Guardian

The authors are former presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Barely a week goes by, it seems, without some new attack on science. For years, oil and coal lobbies have orchestrated assaults on climate scientists, while the religious right continues to oppose the teaching of evolution in US schools, questioning the basic tenets of evolutionary biology.

Denialism does its damage by driving a wedge between science and society, undermining public understanding of science with misinformation and confusing pseudo-debate. The effects can be seen not just in climate change mitigation efforts, but in peoples’ health – witness the recent US upsurge in childhood measles concentrated in areas where there is opposition to vaccines. No wonder the latest survey of scientists by the Pew Research Center found scientists increasingly pessimistic about how their work is viewed in the wider society.

In the latest organised attack on science, 14 senior US scientists are being targeted by anti-GM lobby group US Right to Know (USRTK), an offshoot of the failed California GM labelling campaign Yes on 37. USRTK is using the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to demand access to years of private emails and other correspondence of these scientists, undoubtedly aiming to undermine their credentials and sully their names in public.

As three former presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we know how important it is for scientists to engage meaningfully in societal debates about their work. But we also know how important it is for scientists to be able to speak freely in conducting their work, both publicly and privately. USRTK’s attack is reminiscent of ‘Climategate’, where the release of private emails did immense, unwarranted damage to the reputations of climate scientists. Now the vocal anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook.

The facts are clear: the scientific consensus on the safety of foods derived from GM plants is equivalent to that on global climate change driven by human activities. The AAAS has issued statements on both subjects, underscoring that climate change is real and that GM technology is safe. Numerous other learned societies and public bodies have reached the same conclusions and continue to be attacked by science deniers on both issues.

USRTK’s statements are unambiguous – it views any scientist with the temerity to speak out in public on biotechnology as part of “the PR machine for the chemical-agro industry.” Hence its FoIA requests focus on any email exchanges with biotech companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont, as well as other organisations, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Council for Biotechnology Information. These researchers have denied receiving hidden funding from these groups, yet a good deal of damage can be done with private communications quoted out of context.

Ironically, USRTK is less eager to reveal its own agenda and funding. Its website reveals only one donor, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a group that seeks to turn US agriculture 100% organic and eliminate GM crops. It is clearly promoting the interests of the organic food business, now a $63bn (£42bn) dollar industry.

The OCA has a clear game plan – to drive increased sales of higher-priced organic produce by convincing consumers that conventionally farmed foods are swimming in pesticide residues, that GM crops are dangerous, and that biotechnology companies that sell GM seeds are evil. But OCA does not restrict its anti-science activities to agriculture. Its website is also riddled with anti-vaccine misinformation, for example that “it is important to know how to protect your children and yourself with homeopathic and natural alternatives to vaccines to build your natural immunity” and other such dangerous nonsense.

Moreover, OCA’s assertion that we can feed the world organically and without modern technology is nothing short of delusional. We live on a finite planet with a human population of 7.2bn, a number that is increasing by almost 100,000 per day. Our ability to minimise the effects of famine has depended on the application of science and technology to agriculture since the time of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago. The key innovations have been in genetics and plant breeding, synthetic fertilisers, and farm mechanisation.

A recent meta-analysis concluded that adoption of GM crops since 1996 has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22% and increased farmer profits by 68%. Moreover, the gains were larger for developing countries than developed countries. We need more science, not less, if we are to feed the coming world of 9.5bn in 2050 without further destroying fragile ecosystems and driving more species to extinction.

Hostile challenges to intellectual enterprises such as universities and the people who practice science within them are hugely detrimental to our ability to make rational, evidence-based decisions in free societies.

If we allow ideologically-motivated campaigners to harass and threaten our leading thinkers and intellectual institutions, there will be less progress than we could otherwise achieve. Our civilisation can do better than that. We want to be able to vision a healthy, sustainable and vibrant future. But we can’t get there without science.

Nina Fedoroff is an Evan Pugh Professor at Penn State University; Peter Raven is Director Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Phillip Sharp is Institute Professor in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Global Child Nutrition Foundation to Honor Secretary Vilsack on April 16th

By Peter B. Matz

Secretary VilsackThe Global Child Nutrition Foundation is proud to announce Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as the recipient of the 2015 Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition.

Please join the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) and its partners in honoring Secretary Vilsack for his remarkable achievements in child nutrition at GCNF’s Annual Gala Reception. Now in its 12th year, the Gala has become a signature Washington event with high-caliber honorees and speakers. It will take place on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Washington, DC, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

The highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition to the Secretary. Over 200 executives from industry and high-level government and NGO officials will come together for the event.

The Gala raises funds for GCNF’s efforts to end child hunger by helping developing countries establish sustainable school feeding programs. At this moment, over 350 million hungry children live in extreme poverty throughout the world. School feeding programs nourish children, provide an incentive for children to go to school, and help lift children, their families and their communities out of poverty.

Global Child Nutrition Foundation’s Annual Gala Reception honoring

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Thursday, April 16 2015

5:30pm-7:30pm

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20004

More information at www.gcnf.org

Secretary Tom Vilsack

Throughout his long and distinguished career in public service, Secretary Vilsack has demonstrated his commitment to the nutritional well-being of children at home and abroad. As Governor of Iowa, Vilsack created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition.  At USDA, Secretary Vilsack is a key Cabinet leader on global food security and served as one of the primary architects of President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative launched in 2009. Under his leadership, USDA has contributed to improved global food security by focusing on capacity building to improve markets information, food safety systems, basic and applied research and innovations in agricultural productivity.

In 2013, Secretary Vilsack led U.S. efforts on the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, which seeks to support global efforts to make agricultural and nutritionally relevant data available, accessible, and usable for unrestricted use worldwide in order to improve consumer health and expand economic opportunities for farmers. Building on those efforts, in 2014, Secretary Vilsack led the launch of U.S. participation in the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, a global effort to share knowledge and practices to address climate change and its impact on agriculture and chart a new path forward towards greater global food security.

Secretary Vilsack continues to be a strong voice for improving the nutritional quality of domestic child nutrition programs and has focused USDA’s McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program on meeting rigorous nutrition and literacy goals. Child nutrition programs in the United States have become global models of excellence under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership and commitment.

The NAS is Examining GE Crops

By Marshall Matz and Dr. Nina Fedoroff, as published in Agri-Pulse

The new study on genetically engineered (GE) crops now being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, deserves your attention. It has the potential to impact the agriculture economy, food prices and global food security.

The NAS is committed to sound science and has been a consistent supporter of GE technology. Its 2010 report on GE technology stated: “To date, crops with traits that provide resistance to some herbicides and to specific insect pests have benefited adopting farmers by reducing crop losses to insect damage, by increasing flexibility in time management, and by facilitating the use of more environmentally friendly pesticides and tillage practices.”

While President Obama has spoken clearly on the importance of biotechnology and GE, the public, many in Congress and in the State Houses are once again questioning the safety, acceptability and necessity of GE crops. Hence, the opinion of the NAS is very important.

There have been several open meetings to date, the most recent having taken place January 15-16. The public meetings are webcast live and recorded versions are accessible here. The next meeting in March will examine food safety.

The study’s objectives:

“Examine the history of the development and introduction of GE crops in the United States and internationally, including GE crops that were not commercialized, and the experiences of developers and producers of GE crops in different countries.

“Assess the evidence for purported negative effects of GE crops and their accompanying technologies, such as poor yields, deleterious effects on human and animal health, increased use of pesticides and herbicides, the creation of “super-weeds,” reduced genetic diversity, fewer seed choices for producers, and negative impacts on farmers in developing countries and on producers of non-GE crops, and others, as appropriate.

“Assess the evidence for purported benefits of GE crops and their accompanying technologies, such as reductions in pesticide use, reduced soil loss and better water quality through synergy with no-till cultivation practices, reduced crop loss from pests and weeds, increased flexibility and time for producers, reduced spoilage and mycotoxin contamination, better nutritional value potential, improved resistance to drought and salinity, and others, as appropriate.

“Review the scientific foundation of current environmental and food safety assessments for GE crops and foods and their accompanying technologies, as well as evidence of the need for and potential value of additional tests. As appropriate, the study will examine how such assessments are handled for non-GE crops and foods.”

The study is being conducted by the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the NAS, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress to provide science, technology, and health policy advice to the government. The NAS Act of Incorporation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863 with 50 charter members. President Lincoln created USDA and the land grant universities the previous year, 1862.

The NAS is not part of the U.S. government. The National Research Council enlists leading scientists, engineers, and other experts to answer scientific and technical issues facing the United States and the world. Members of study committees serve as volunteers and are not paid for their service. As of 2013, the National Academy of Sciences included some 2,200 members.

The NRC website gives the following explanation for the current study: “Consumers in the United States and abroad get conflicting information about GE crops. Proponents tout the benefits while opponents emphasize the risks. There is a need for an independent, objective study that examines what has been learned about GE crops, assesses whether initial concerns and promises were realized since their introduction, and investigates new concerns and recent claims.”

While GE technology is not a magic bullet in the fight for global food security, it is a critical component, along with improved hybrid seeds, modern irrigation, mechanization, crop loss technology, fertilizers and communication devices. Perhaps most important of all are extension services that can deliver these technologies to smallholder farmers.

The NAS study deserves your attention and input. The study has the potential to be quite important in the current debate on GMO’s and the public’s confidence in the integrity of GE technology.

The NAS is accepting comments here.

Click chart to enlarge it.

 

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, specializes in global food security at OFW Law.

Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the former Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, is the Senior Science Advisor at OFW Law.

Dr. Nina Fedoroff Joins OFW Law as Senior Science Advisor

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Nina Fedoroff, a renowned plant molecular biologist, has joined OFW Law as Senior Science Advisor focusing on agriculture policy, global food security and government affairs.  The former Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, Dr. Fedoroff has long been involved in regulatory issues surrounding genetic modification of organisms (GMOs) by modern molecular techniques.

Please click the announcement, below, to enlarge it.

Nina Fedoroff Announcement

2015: The Year of Soils

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. The year kicked off on December 5, 2014, with events in Rome, New York and Chile, all in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource. “Healthy soils are critical for global food production, but we are not paying enough attention to this important silent ally,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The specific FAO objectives for the Year of the Soils are to:

  • Raise the awareness among society and policy makers about the importance of soil for human life;
  • Promote effective policies and actions for sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Promote investment in sustainable soil management; and
  • Encourage soil health information and monitoring at all levels of government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined nations from across the globe to kick off the International Year of Soils in an effort to highlight the importance of soil in everyday life. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie will address members of the 68th United Nations General Assembly, which designated 2015 for the yearlong celebration.

“We are excited to be working with the United Nations to help raise awareness and promote the importance of conservation of our soil resources,” Bonnie said. “USDA is embracing this unique opportunity to tell the world about the importance of soil conservation and how we’ve worked with private landowners since 1935 to protect and improve this priceless natural resource.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service published an interim rule on December 12, 2014, which outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs. The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Over the last 50 years, the world’s population has increased from 3 billion to 7 billion people, but the amount of arable land has remained constant.  Dr. Andreas Weber, of the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Science, has calculated that the amount of arable land per person is currently .4 acres (40 meters x 40 meters per person).  By the year 2050, there will be between 9-10 billion people on the planet, which means there will be 30 percent less arable land available for food production.

Taking Dr. Weber’s calculation a step further and recognizing that consumption patterns are also changing with increased wealth, more calories will have to be produced per unit of land to feed the planet.  Coupled with the FAO’s estimate that a third of all soils are currently degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices, we have a very serious global food security challenge.

Chart by Dr. Andreas Weber

In short, we need to stop treating soil like dirt. Soil is a living thing; it needs to be respected and cared for in order for soil to be sustainable.

Dr. Bashir Jama is the Director of Soil Health Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).  He recently noted that “We have not been caring for soil as we should. As a result, in many parts of the world, including Africa, soil has lost many of its important biological and physical properties. Erosion from wind and rain has meant we have lost valuable top soil, and as we have taken nutrients from the soil to grow our food, we have not replaced them.”

Man owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil.  Just as a balanced diet is important for our health and wellbeing, we need a balanced, integrated approach for managing our soils.

There is a scientific consensus that we need to double agriculture production by 2050 to meet the challenge of global food security.  Further, it must be done while using fewer resources….less water, fertilizer and inputs.  Simply stated, we cannot begin to meet this challenge without healthy top soil.

As you can see from the chart below, fertilizer use varies widely from country to country. Some countries need improved seeds to reduce the use of other inputs; other countries desperately need greater access to fertilizer, improved seeds, and other inputs.

Access to these inputs must come with effective extension services to teach smallholder farmers how to use the modern tools of agriculture.  It is important to develop agricultural technology, but it is equally important to reach out to smallholder farmers through extension services and educate them on the proper use of inputs.  Quoting Dr. Norman Borlaug, unless we “take it to the farmer,” the development of modern agriculture technology cannot reach its full potential.

During 2015, the FAO, in conjunction with allied nations, will be holding a series of events to further the objectives outlined above, including:

3rd International Conference on Natural Resource Management for Food and Rural Livelihoods

First Global Soil Biodiversity Conference

Third Global Soil Week

Global Soil Security Symposium

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, specializes in global food security at OFW Law.

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Future

By Nina Fedoroff, Ken Cassman and Marshall L. Matz, as published in the Des Moines Register

The Ghost of Christmas Future is the most fearsome character in “The Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas story, giving Scrooge a glimpse of his bleak future. Horrified, Scrooge changes his selfish lifestyle in a heartbeat.

An abundant Thanksgiving 2014 is almost upon us. But like Scrooge, we’ll need a dramatic change in our beliefs if we’re to have a plenitude of healthful food not just for us, but for all of the 9 or so billion expected at the global dinner table on Thanksgiving 2050.

The beliefs and narratives that need rethinking are those around GMOs and organic food.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are crop plants and animals improved by modern molecular techniques, rather than older, often less precise methods. GM crops, such as insect-resistant corn and cotton, have been in commercial production for almost two decades. They are now grown in 27 countries on more than 400 million acres by 18 million farmers, more than 90 percent of whom are resource-poor, small-holder farmers.

GM crops have increased farm income, reduced pesticide use, soil erosion and carbon dioxide emission, and benefited consumers by decreasing fungal toxin contamination of corn.

It’s a fact that neither people nor animals have been harmed by consuming food or feed containing GM ingredients. Even decades ago, we thought that people would be reassured as evidence grew, as it has, that GM crops are safe. But that’s not what happened. Instead, more and more people have come to believe that they are dangerous.

America’s Thanksgiving 2014 will be a plentiful feast. Farmers have gotten very good at coaxing food from the land. Over the second half of the 20th century, the number of people on Earth doubled, yet the amount of food tripled. Mechanization, plant genetics, irrigation and synthetic fertilizers all contributed to the today’s food abundance.

But the notions that organically grown food is more healthful than food produced by conventional methods, and that organic is the only sustainable agriculture, are gaining traction, as is the idea that conventional agriculture and synthetic fertilizers are somehow bad.

So what are the facts? Organically grown food is not more healthful than conventionally grown food. Plants don’t care whether their nitrogen comes from manure or a sack of fertilizer. Organic produce is more expensive because organic farming is less productive than conventional farming. Nor is it sustainable on a global scale. Indeed, if the whole world relied on organic farming, we could feed about half of today’s 7 billion people.

What’s the forecast for Thanksgiving 2050? Although they had little effect on the world’s affluent city-dwellers, food price spikes since 2008 unleashed food riots in many poor countries and brought down governments. Indeed, the Arab spring started with food riots. This means that today’s abundance has a razor-thin margin.

It’s been estimated that to meet the challenge of global food security, the world’s farmers will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than all they’ve produced in the last 10,000 years combined. Can they? There’s deep reason for concern.

Important crops are reaching their yield plateaus in major food-producing countries. Because demand continues to rise, much of the recent increase in food production has come from putting more land under crops. Yet we’re beginning to understand that our planet’s resources are finite and that its biodiversity is precious.

We need instead to slow and stop conversion of natural ecosystems to cropland.

In developing countries, particularly in Africa, farmers can still grow much, much more. Organic farming is what most African farmers do now, and most of them are devastatingly poor. They need good seeds, fertilizer, agri-chemicals, training and information to triple their yields, not organic ideology that seeks to prevent access to modern farming inputs. They also need the entire infrastructure that supports modern food systems and the training to run it.

That’s what will put them on the road out of poverty.

Our belief systems and narratives matter, perhaps more than ever in the age of electronic social media. The organic food industry supplies a mere 4 percent of our food, but amplifies its message by promulgating the myth that organic food is more healthful and environmentally sound.

As well, GMO story-telling and fear-mongering have intensified in recent years, driven by individuals and organizations that profit from persuading people they are dangerous. This is influencing politicians worldwide and impeding the development and introduction of more nutritious, hardy and environmentally friendly GM crops and animals.

Belief systems are notoriously resistant to facts, even mountains of them. And real people don’t change their minds and hearts as fast as characters in stories.

But we urgently need to change our beliefs about food to realize the benefits of investing in advanced, science-based food production systems that can address the difficult challenges of making our agriculture both more sustainable and productive even as our numbers continue to grow.

About the authors: Nina Fedoroff, Ph.D., is a plant biologist and served as science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State from 2007-10. Ken Cassman, Ph.D., is an international agronomist at the University of Nebraska. Marshall Matz was counsel to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee specializing in nutrition and food security.

Feed the Future: A Bipartisan Opportunity

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The “Feed the Future” initiative is aimed at improving agriculture productivity and economic development around the world. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the both the House and Senate to make this discretionary program permanent. The legislation (H.R. 5656; S.2909) has the support of private sector corporations as well as non-profit public interest organizations.  To use an old phrase, the initiative teaches people how to fish rather than just distributing fish. It deserves our attention.

For generations, the United States has been a leader in providing agriculture development assistance across the globe to alleviate suffering and build shared progress and prosperity. But global food price spikes and resulting instability in 2007 and 2008 were a wake-up call that more needed to be done.

Feed the Future was borne out of President Obama’s pledge at the 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila to mobilize at least $3.5 billion towards global food security—spurring commitments of $18.5 billion from other donors. But the United States has, in fact, thanks to tremendous bipartisan support, surpassed its goal and committed $5 billion in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition.

In 2010, the Administration launched “Feed the Future” (FTF), an initiative designed to expand and better coordinate the United States’ investments in improving global food security. Feed the Future is a whole-of-government approach from USDA to AID and State. It focuses on the dual objectives of improving farmer productivity, income, and livelihoods in developing countries while fighting hunger with a special focus on women and children in particular.

On September 18, 2014 Chairman Chris Smith with Rep. Betty McCollum in the House introduced the Global Food Security Act of 2014 in the House. In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senators Casey and Johanns with Senators Coons, Isakson, Cardin and Boozman.

The Global Food Security Act is based on the premise that global food insecurity impacts not only the economies of developing nations but also the international economy and U.S. national security. The bill recognizes the key role that agriculture development plays in economic growth.

There is broad bipartisan support for sustaining Feed the Future due in large part to tremendous gains made over the past few years—

WORLDWIDE: Last year, Feed the Future helped more than 7 million smallholder farmers’ access new tools and technologies to help them improve yields and boost incomes. Feed the Future also reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions.

ZAMBIA: Feed the Future played a key role in the record maize harvest for the 2013/14 cropping season (3.4 million metric tons – a 32 percent increase over the previous year’s total) through policy advocacy and by helping smallholder farmers’ access agricultural inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers through private sector providers.

ETHIOPIA: Feed the Future and other U.S. Government programs are making progress toward achieving real reductions in stunting in Ethiopia. A recent nationwide survey shows stunting rates declined by over 9 percent over the past three years, even as the population grew, resulting in 160,000 fewer stunted children.

HONDURAS: More than 4,300 families are now well above the $1.25-per-day poverty line, thanks in part to Feed the Future’s efforts, which increased horticulture sales by 125 percent last year.

BANGLADESH: Feed the Future reached 3.3 million smallholder farmers with improved seed, fertilizer and farm management practices, helping farmers increase rice yields by as much as 20 percent and creating additional rice sales of $25 million.

SENEGAL: Feed the Future introduced a new breed of high-yielding, high-protein rice that helps smallholder farmers’ triple yields in a single year.

TANZANIA: Feed the Future helped increase horticulture yields by 44 percent and rice yields by more than 50 percent among farmers. The initiative assisted the Government of Tanzania in its efforts to turn the nation’s fertile south into a breadbasket.

Dr. Raj Shah, AID Administrator

Dr. Raj Shah, AID Administrator

“Through Feed the Future, we are harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation to unlock opportunities in agriculture for the world’s most vulnerable people,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. “By creating and scaling cutting-edge solutions to our most pressing agricultural challenges, we can help the world’s most vulnerable people move from dependency to self-sufficiency—and out of the tragic cycle of extreme poverty.”

USDA’s expertise is also critical in this effort. From research and extension to market development and trade, USDA must play a central role for Feed the Future to be successful.

Secretary Vilsack has executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to help transfer research and extension expertise and that is a building block for Feed the Future.

Feed the Future is not just a commitment of money, it is a new multi-department approach. Instead of merely providing food aid in times of crises, it establishes a new model to turn agriculture into a business—one that especially works for women.

In short, the Global Food Security Act of 2014, the Smith (R-NJ) -Casey (D-PA) -Johanns (R-NE) legislation, compliments the successful PEPFAR program initiated by President Bush and uses our expertise in agriculture as the best possible foreign policy. The Global Food Security Act of 2014 presents an excellent opportunity to come together behind a piece of bipartisan legislation that puts our best foot forward as a country.

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, specializes in global food security at OFW Law. He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program—USA; the Congressional Hunger Center; and the Food Research Action Center (FRAC).