WASHINGTON, July 16, 2014 – University of California President Janet Napolitano is committing the 10 campuses in the UC system to a Global Food Initiative, a plan to leverage the state's role in agriculture and research to tackle the world’s most pressing food problems.
The university also hopes to start research projects looking into how government policies shape the way food is bought and sold in the United States and overseas, Napolitano, the former Homeland Security chief who took over as president of the system last year, said earlier this month when she launched the initiative.
“It is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university — in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world — to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues,” Napolitano said.
The event started at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, founded by Alice Waters, whose Chez Panisse restaurant was a pioneer in the local and organic foods movement. Featuring vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, fruit trees and chickens, the facility has become a model for teaching children how to grow and eat a healthy, sustainable diet.
“I’m extremely excited and very hopeful because I know that (Napolitano) believes as I do that public education is the best way to solve the problems of the world,” said Waters, a UC Berkeley alumna.
The initiative, which will harness UC’s leadership in the fields of agriculture, nutrition, climate science, public policy and other areas, comes at a crucial time, Napolitano said. A billion people — most of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious nutritional deficiencies. More than half a billion — primarily in the industrialized nations — are obese. Against this backdrop, climate change and population growth fuel additional uncertainty and urgency about how to sustainably feed the world.
Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, who joined Napolitano at the meeting with the state board, said that people at UC Davis are particularly excited about the initiative because it aligns so well with work already under way at the campus. UC Davis last year launched the World Food Center to focus on transformative research at the intersection of food, agriculture, health and public policy.
“We’re already the No.1 agricultural school in the nation and the world,” Dillard said. “Having the UC system focusing on this really plays to our strengths.”
UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) currently partners with California’s farmers and consumers, providing tested production techniques, educating families about nutrition, improving food safety and addressing environmental concerns.
One of its extension centers has 1,300 carrot varieties in production for USDA’s carrot improvement program. The system also holds patents for 11 strawberry varieties developed at its extension centers, and those varieties account for 65 percent of California production and 40 percent of all strawberry production worldwide. A UC online decision tool called Crop Manage has helped Central Coast farmers cut back irrigation water by 50 percent over the lettuce and broccoli growing seasons while maintaining yields. With Extension programs in every California county, ANR’s research and extension network has 320 academics actively engaged in research and extension projects. It also has nine research and extension centers, with more than 11,000 acres devoted to food, environmental and nutrition studies.
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