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Investing in Collaborative Conservation to Address Global Food Security Challenges

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Conservation Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017

This blog was cross-posted on the Chicago Council’s Global Food for Thought blog.

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water. We depend on them for food, clothing and shelter – and they depend on our natural resources for their livelihoods. 

The conversation about global food security rightly focuses on the most pressing issues of access, nutritional value, food safety, and productivity. Conservation and resource use are intrinsically tied to each of these challenges, but are not always a focal point.

Today, 805 million people around the world do not have access to a reliable supply of safe and nutritious food. Worldwide, demand for food is predicted to double by the year 2030. Meeting the growing demand for an adequate and nutritious food supply will therefore require that we build food systems that can not only feed hundreds of millions of new global citizens, but also maintain a healthy planet and grow healthy economies around the world.

Those in agriculture understand this well. They believe that leaving behind a legacy of good stewardship for our children and their children is the right thing to do. But they also live in a reality where unpredictable weather systems, drought and water scarcity, emerging pests, and the decline of pollinators put increasing pressure on our soil, air and water resources.

They know that our farms and forests will only be able to rise to the challenge of feeding a growing global population if natural resources are properly cared for. 

USDA programs have historically supported American producers by giving them the tools they need to protect natural resources while keeping farm and ranch lands in production and protecting their livelihoods.

USDA estimates that as a result of these programs, nitrogen in runoff from farm fields has been reduced by over 3.5 billion pounds over the past 6 years, or nearly 600 million pounds per year. Phosphorus runoff has been reduced by over 700 million pounds since 2009. Net greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 360 million metric tons since 2009, or approximately 60 million metric tons per year. That is the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year; or 6.7 million gallons of gasoline consumed; or more than 5.4 million homes’ energy use for a year. 

Those conservation tools and techniques generated through research and on-farm innovation here in the U.S. are shared with farmers around the world through the Food for Progress and Borlaug Fellowship Programs.  

But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we’ll need more than just farmers, ranchers and agricultural researchers at the table to meet the challenges of the new century. We’ll need the best and the brightest innovators and thought leaders from across disciplines to join together to form a broad coalition of partners—farmers, ranchers, family forest private companies, universities, local and tribal governments, non-profit organizations and businesses—and craft the kinds of multifaceted solutions that these challenges require and produce a next generation of researchers and policy makers who are even more food- and resource-conscious than the last.

Working together, we can effectively confront growing threats to our natural resources, create new conservation jobs in our communities, and keep our land resilient and our water clean for generations to come.