By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 – “When water shortages, less arable land, competition for energy resources, and climate change challenge the world's capacity to produce enough food, global food security demands that we make fighting hunger and strengthening agricultural-led economic growth a priority.”

That was USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's message Wednesday at the symposium launching the Worldwatch Institute's annual “State of the World” report. Merrigan said far more must be done to combat chronic world hunger, with over 3.5 million children dying from malnutrition every year. She said the U.S. has “a strategic, economic and moral imperative” to become full partners “in building the capacity for transformational change.” She said the administration is pursuing new policies so that developing nations can feed themselves and trade with the U.S. rather than continue to rely on U.S. aid.

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan speaking at the launch of the Worldwatch Institute's "2011 State of the World" report. Photo: Agri-Pulse.

Merrigan echoed the Worldwatch report's call to refocus agricultural research on graduating the world's rural poor from subsistence farming to raising marketable crops. (For more on the Worldwatch report's recommendations, click HERE.)

Merrigan also announced a stepped-up USDA sustainability effort domestically. She said “American farmers , ranchers and forest owners can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while boosting their profitability, but they need help to fully understand the potential that's theirs.” She said within next several months, USDA “will be rolling out an aggressive agenda to demonstrate these opportunities.”

Building on USDA's existing programs which support developing biomass feedstocks from farms, ranches and forests and building new biorefineries to turn woody biomass into fuel and electricity, one new thrust will be to “show farmers clearly and directly how they can benefit from participating in carbon markets.” She said that despite congressional skepticism about climate change, current USDA policy is to “integrate climate change into all that we do.”

Merrigan explained that both President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack “have been very clear about the opportunities that confronting climate change holds for rural farmers and ranchers. We think that figuring out the carbon market, figuring out ecosystem service markets, as Congress has directed USDA to do, provides great opportunity for economic prosperity.” She said that while budget pressures present challenges, USDA is determined to “protect the most important priorities in terms of what our people need to prosper out in the countryside.”

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