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Building food system resilency

Rattan Lal
Rattan Lal, a soil scientist at Ohio State University, is the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate. His research in soil health is helping farmers all over the world grow more and protect the environment. PHOTO / WORLD FOOD PRIZE

The World Food Prize cel­­ebration last week in­­cluded the 2020 laureate ceremony and the Borlaug Dialogue, a global conversation about innovation in agriculture. The theme for this year’s dialogue is “Building Resilience To­­day for Improved Global Food Systems Tomorrow.”

It couldn’t be a more timely topic as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a tipping point and concentrated thought about the resiliency of our food system, but Farm Bureau has been having this dialog all along. That’s why we’re proud that the American Farm Bureau Federation co-hosted, together with the Farm Journal Foundation, a side event on using your voice to create a more resilient food system.

The foundation

The Iowa-based World Food Prize (WFP) is considered to be like a Nobel Prize for agriculture. In this season of Nobel Prize announcements, we’re thankful to the WFP Foundation for continuing this celebration of innovation in agriculture. After all, it is because of agriculture that we are able to have the advancements celebrated by the Nobel Prize, whether it’s medicine, literature, economics or peace. Agriculture and food security are the foundation of all human achievements.

Farm Bureau congratulates Ohio State University professor Dr. Rattan Lal, the 2020 World Food Prize laureate. 

Dr. Lal’s research on soil health and its role in agricultural productivity and mitigating climate change will help farmers around the world grow food more productively and efficiently. As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks during the announcement ceremony, “Dr. Lal’s research in soil science shows that the solution to this problem [of feeding a growing world population] is right under our feet.”

Dr. Lal is a native of India, which brings the World Food Prize full circle in that the man who started the award, Dr. Normal Borlaug, is credited with increasing wheat yields and saving countless lives in India in the 1960s. For that, Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

The value of research

To continue the type of re­search carried out by Dr. Lal and others working to increase agricultural productivity today and ensure people around the world have access to food, we must increase investment in agricultural research. 

It’s fine to talk about building resilience for improved food systems. It’s something else to make the actual commitment of research funding to achieve it. 

We must turn dialog into action. So we’re glad to see the World Food Prize Foundation advocating for the America Grows Act, a bipartisan bill to authorize annual 5% Increases in funding for research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

American farmers and ranchers always have been leaders in innovation, but that leadership role is being challenged as China’s investment in agricultural research grows and U.S. public investment declines.

America’s investment in agri­cultural research took off in re­sponse to the 1930s farm crisis. Today, the world faces a different crisis: continuing productivity gains to feed a growing population while also continuing ag­­riculture’s contributions to carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation, and now working to increase agriculture’s resiliency in the face of global supply chain disruptions due to a pandemic — or other disruptive events yet to come.

Competitive edge

Just as research and innovation led us out of the challenges of the 20th century, they will be the answer to the challenges we face in this century and beyond — but only if we make the necessary investment in agricultural research. And America’s farmers and ranchers can continue their leadership role only if the U.S. keeps up with investments by other countries. We must not lose our competitive advantage or give up our leadership role to other countries.

We need more agricultural research, more Dr. Lals and Dr. Borlaugs, and more dialogue on meeting the challenges ahead by building a more-resilient food system.

Duvall is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. 



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