APLU established the Challenge of Change commission to examine food security challenges and make recommendations on the actions required by public research universities to meet global food needs by 2050. The Commission—comprised of prominent university, government, non-governmental organizations, and business leaders—unveiled their much-anticipated report and action plan, which centers on harnessing the vast academic, research, and leadership capabilities of public research universities to address the interdisciplinary challenges of food and nutrition security.
The world has a food problem. And with the world population expected to swell to 9.7 billion people by 2050 it’s going to get worse. The problems that stem from hunger, poverty, low crop yields, inadequate food storage, obesity, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and the political instability they create will only intensify unless there is a conscious and deliberate effort to create true global food and nutrition security.
The search for sustainable solutions grows even more complicated against the backdrop of limited access to clean water, finite land for agriculture production, climate change, and evolving diets that demand more high-value food products. While many worthwhile efforts are being undertaken to address these problems, a truly comprehensive, holistic approach has been lacking. That is the challenge of change.
If we do not address the problems now, the solutions will become more intractable, the costs greater, and the human, social, economic and environmental damage irreparable. Despite progress toward the goal of eradicating hunger worldwide, nearly 800 million people (1 in 9) were food insecure in 2014-16. For the United States, 42.2 million of our own citizens are among those suffering from inadequate access to nutritious food – often suffering from either hunger or obesity.
The volatility of food prices, which contributes to the lack of regular access to nutritious food abroad, are prime drivers of social and political unrest. Leaders hostile to the United States and its interests will continue to exploit these opportunities and rise to power. The resulting instability in low-income countries will send more waves of refugees to middle and high-income countries, creating social and economic pressures that are global challenges in themselves.
North American public research universities are uniquely positioned, in collaboration with public and private partners, to make critical contributions toward sustainably feeding an expanding population and to improve prospects for food and nutrition security for all. They can do so through research and technological innovation; engagement with local communities and outside partners; and training students to be the next generation of problem solvers. All relevant disciplines are present at public research universities and, with adequate resources and funding, universities are able and willing to undertake this important work.
Bob Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Texas A&M President, discusses the importance of APLU’s Challenge of Change initiative.