Earlier today, I had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the challenges facing American agriculture in feeding a growing world.
The invitation came from the Senate Agriculture Committee, which will soon be helping to write the next “farm bill” (a critical law, enacted once every five years or so, that guides U.S. policy on food and agriculture). U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and former Secretary Dan Glickman were also there to testify to the Committee.
This is an important topic and opportunity for CI to share our views with members of the Senate. With the world’s population expected to grow from 7 billion to more than 9 billion over the next 40 years, and global food demand expected to double by 2050, the United States and the rest of the world face enormous challenges to ensure an adequate food supply.
The three key points I tried to make in my testimony were:
1. Food security is about more than just food; it is about national security through providing regional stability across the globe, and thus is critical to U.S. policy broadly.
2. The agricultural sector is a major driver of rural economic development. It provides income, employment and prosperity for farmers and farm workers, and it addresses poverty and food issues globally.
3. We must not only increase food supply, we must do it in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner.
I want to develop a bit more on this last point because it is particularly important. The challenge of feeding a population of 9 billion includes not only improving food production from agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, but also conserving the natural systems upon which that production depends.
We at Conservation International know this by experience. Our work over the past 25 years has shown to us that nature provides essential services for agriculture — like fertile soil, runoff protection, water regulation, and pollination, to name a few. For example, beneficial arthropods, including native bees, provide valuable ecosystem services worth $8 billion to U.S. agriculture each year.
Farmers are already experiencing the consequences of declining natural ecosystem health through stronger and more frequent droughts, storms and flooding. We stand at a critical point in history that will require the agricultural sector to be innovative and to engage in more sustainable practices. Toward this end, we have worked with corporations, government, intergovernmental organizations, private foundations, local communities, and others to test innovative methods to promote conservation within agricultural landscapes.
How to Help People Thrive
Sustainable food production relies on healthy ecosystems, and it is possible to create mechanisms that support both of these goals successfully — enhancing food security and the protection of the natural systems upon which that food production depends.
As a global leader, the United States has an opportunity to promote innovation in the agriculture sector that will ensure that American farmers remain leaders in food production, ensure a sustainable food supply and remain economically viable.
I have done this type of thing before in my career as a conservationist, while working for government and as a member of several U.S. Commissions and boards. But every time I go to Capitol Hill, it is a fresh reminder of the power that lies inside these monumental buildings — and the ability we have to bring about meaningful environmental change that helps people thrive.
Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is Senior Vice President for CI’s Science and Knowledge division.