WASHINGTON, June 5, 2014 – Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman urged the agricultural community to advocate for increased funding for agricultural research – research that’s needed, he said, to avoid the “asteroids” of hunger, climate change and water shortage that are threating the Earth.
“Agriculture has to look at itself much more holistically,” Glickman said in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. He argued that the public industry – currently faces budget challenges held over from the 2008 recession – needs a bigger seat at the agriculture research table to combat wide-ranging and potentially destructive issues like malnutrition in the developing world.
“Agriculture research decision-making has been slow to adapt,” Glickman, also a former Democratic congressman representing Kansas, said. The field needs “more money but also significant changes to how its priorities are set.”
Glickman, who was USDA head under President Bill Clinton, noted that while the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) received about $29 billion and $8 billion in research funding in fiscal year 2014, USDA research agencies received a fraction of that: $2.7 billion.
And while 80 percent of NIH and NSF grants are competitively awarded, he said, only 10 to 15 percent of USDA’s research is distributed through a competitive process.
“Those of us in food and agriculture really need to talk about how we can change this,” he said.
Catherine Woteki, USDA’s under secretary for research, education and economics and another participant in the AAAS event, said the USDA agricultural research budget has declined 20 percent in the past 30 years. Woteki said the funding situation has gone especially tight since 2008, and indicated she was not optimistic about the ongoing agriculture appropriations process.
Glickman also indicated that private industry, which has stepped up to fill in gaps in public agricultural research funding, does not do all the research that needs to be done. Forty-six percent of agriculture research in developed countries is in food processing, beverages and tobacco, he said, far from the priorities needed to feed a projected global population of 9 million by 2050.
Politically, Glickman said, the agriculture industry needs to harness the burgeoning interest in food systems, which have preoccupied a number of consumers and particularly young consumers interested in, but uniformed about, topics like GMOs and organics.
“In terms of (agricultural research) champions” in Congress, Glickman said, “I think ultimately it’s very difficult to do this top-down.
“We need to make sure the role models” – and voices heard by lawmakers – “are not just the people in the traditional agriculture sector.”
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