Sharing information key in fight against climate change, USDA's Harden says

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2015 - While world leaders negotiate in Paris over how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden talked with members of the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday about how climate change threatens food security in similar ways across the globe.

“When you talk with farmers in this country or around the world, some of the conversations are very much the same,” Harden said during the hearing on global hunger. “They worry about extreme weather; they worry about drought, pests, (and) disease. All of the problems that our farmers have to deal with here, farmers around the world are having to deal with.

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“We are lucky here in that we do have tools to deal with many of these issues,” Harden continued, but other producers around the world are at a significant disadvantage. She said sharing information with other countries will help mitigate the effects of climate change elsewhere in the world. “If we don't use all the science and technology that is available, we're going to have greater problems.”

Harden noted the Obama administration's part in the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture, which aims to integrate climate change planning into agricultural systems worldwide through an open exchange of information between USDA, other U.S. federal agencies and world governments.

The administration's alliance, she said, encourages the international exchange of USDA's science and data on the subject - which she argued is the best and most comprehensive in the world - and promotes collaboration and trust between the U.S. and other countries. Ultimately, the exchange will support trading relationships, diplomatic relations and international food security, she said.

USDA is also working to make its research and data openly available worldwide through the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative, and to make it's “premier” collections of seed and genetic materials through the Germplasm Resources Information Network available for use around the world, she added.

Harden also stressed the importance of communicating agricultural research generated by land grant colleges and extension systems to other countries struggling to develop stable and robust agricultural systems.

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“There is no doubt… that our extension system is the envy of the world,” Harden said, and has been the “bedrock” of American agriculture. “We need to teach and guide” farmers in other countries how farming can be done based on the extension research that Americans sometimes “take for granted,” she said.

The hearing was held the same day Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a USDA-led, scientific assessment - “Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System” - while attending the COP 21 Paris Climate Conference. The report identifies the risks climate change poses to global food security and the U.S. food system, and addresses the challenges farmers and consumers face in adapting to climate change.

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