Global food security: A past, present and future approach

By Sen. Pat Roberts

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Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

Show me a nation that cannot feed itself, and I'll show you a nation in chaos. I've said it before and I'll surely say it again.

A nation's ability to feed itself depends on farmers. Farmers depend on agricultural research.

As the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can confidently say that there is no issue in global security more timely or relevant than food security.

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Tonight, one in nine people - that's almost 800 million worldwide, will go to bed hungry. That's more than double the population of the United States.

Around the world impoverished regions are facing increasing challenges in feeding their people - from political unrest and social conflict like what we face in places like Syria, to weather driven crises like what we currently see in East Africa.

Yet American farmers and ranchers are so efficient at producing food that we can aid less fortunate nations. In fact, in 1953 a farmer in Kansas by the name of Peter O'Brien had the idea that American farmers could give aid to other countries in the form of food. Eventually this idea led to what is now called Food for Peace, a program that provides aid to nearly every country in the world.

But that's not all that American agriculture is doing to fight world hunger. For just over 30 years, USDA has been using the Food for Progress program to help developing countries advance their own agriculture systems. By increasing productivity and expanding market and trade opportunities, countries are better able to grow their economies and respond to regional crises.

I'd be remiss if I didn't give due credit to my friend U.S. Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Through the McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program (or as we say in Kansas, the Dole-McGovern program), USDA and partners have the ability not only to provide a child with a nutritious meal for the day, but also offer the opportunity to receive an education.

The issues of global food security and agriculture research are not standalone issues. Both overlap with multiple issue areas. Both require the cooperation of multiple public and private agencies and organizations.

Also required is the cooperation of both Republicans and Democrats. Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and I cosponsored an amendment to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expands agricultural trade technical assistance with an increased focus on sectors that support women.

With the backing of Senator Stabenow and myself, the last Farm Bill authorized the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. This is a perfect example of the potential for public-private partnerships to find innovative ways to support and advance agriculture research. This Foundation is going to make a difference, both domestically and internationally.

This year the Global Food Security Act was signed into law. I worked closely with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ensure that agriculture, and the expertise of the agriculture community, play a strong role in this whole of government strategy to address global food security.

As with any good policy, we cannot just look at the past or present. We must look to the future - a future where the world population will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050. Continuing to invest in agriculture research now will mean less hungry mouths in the future. As I said, a hungry nation is sure to be a nation in chaos.

Though many things remain uncertain with regards to the future of global food security, one thing is certain: agriculture must play a central role. USDA has invaluable expertise in agricultural development and has the capability to offer important technical assistance to nations establishing critically needed infrastructure. We are leading by example with Extension services that are second to none. The agriculture community relies heavily on the expertise of USDA, probably in no greater way than its support for research and its partnerships with research institutions. The work being done at land grant universities and other agricultural higher education institutions is a critical tool in combatting global hunger.

We must continue to build upon the time-tested infrastructure of research in the U.S. to make an impact around the world. Building the capacity of public-private partnerships will produce real results in addressing issues related to hunger, and developing economies of food insecure populations. There are many seats at the table, and we need every one of them.

About the Author: U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. He is the first member of Congress in history to have chaired both the House Agriculture Committee and now the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senator Roberts also serves on the Finance Committee; the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; the Rules Committee; and the Senate Ethics Committee. Chairman Roberts is a fourth generation Kansan. Following graduation from Kansas State University in 1958, Roberts served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, then worked as a reporter and editor for several Arizona newspapers. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980 and the U.S. Senate in 1997. 

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