Global food security — making sure that everyone in the world has enough to eat each day — is one of the most serious issues facing the international community today.
The United Nations says that 925 million people were undernourished last year. And looking forward, the global population is on the rise and strong economic growth in developing countries is expanding middle classes and increasing demand for agricultural products. Most estimates suggest that we will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet growing demand.
As Americans, our sense of morality should not let us tolerate that all these people are going hungry, whether at home or abroad. What’s more, hungry people abroad can mean unstable governments, threatening our national security.
I believe that the solution to global food security lies in innovation, arising from research and development. Over the past century American farmers and ranchers become more and more productive, and our nation moved from subsistence farming of the 1920s and 30s — to the world’s largest food exporter today.
But we have seen over decades that our current focus on providing food aid has not solved the problem. Instead, we can help other nations develop their farms and ranches to increase the availability and accessibility of nutritious food for their own citizens.
When we do, we will also be supporting more prosperous countries that can emerge as trading partners — helping create jobs here at home.
As we have done here at home, we should help other nations of the world embrace science in their pursuit of greater productivity.
At the same time, the solutions to global food security must not sacrifice our efforts to conserve natural resources. And so we must continue to promote technologies and agricultural practices based on the imagination, creativity, and hard work of scientists, academics and the private sector.
Two years ago, world leaders got together and pledged to increase investments in agriculture development. And this week I am traveling to meet with Agricultural Ministers from other G-20 nations to talk about strategies to continue international work on this issue.
In the United States, we have followed through on our commitment. Feed the Future, a presidential initiative focused on raising the productivity and incomes of small farmers around the globe, engages with countries to develop strategies that fit their individual needs.
USDA has worked with federal and international partners to help farmers produce more and to build efficient markets. At the same time, we are streamlining some of our research efforts so that they are focused on the toughest challenges in global agriculture: developing crops that are tolerant to heat, disease, pests, drought or flooding. And we are collaborating with researchers in other nations to spread and apply this knowledge.
Our efforts to feed those who are hungry provide children with the opportunity for a brighter, more productive future. This affects not only the individual child, but the community where that child is raised, the country where he or she lives, and the entire world. This is a moral issue. And we are proud to be engaged — alongside American producers and researchers — in work that gives children around the world an opportunity to follow their dreams.
Tom Vilsack is the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.