Taking aim at domestic and worldwide food issues, a national commission of academic, government and business leaders from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities released a new report yesterday in Washington, D.C., defining seven challenges for solving global food and nutrition insecurity.

The Challenge of Change Commission, whose executive committee includes Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis, details the steps that public research universities and their partners must take to address these challenges.

Helene Dillard (Courtesy/UC Davis)
“We have made tremendous research advances in the areas of food production, storage and processing, as well as food safety and nutrition,” Dillard said.

“And yet, we find ourselves to still be in a world that struggles to provide adequate, nutritious food to every person. At UC Davis, we will be evaluating our efforts in light of these findings, looking forward to even stronger, and more strategic collaborations with our colleagues in industry, academia and government.”

The new report and action plan focus on harnessing the academic, research, and leadership capabilities of public research universities to address the interdisciplinary challenges of food and nutrition security that face the world.

Food insecurity affects 42.2 million people in U.S.

The commission found that nearly 1 in 9 people around the world were food insecure in 2014-16, including 42.2 million people in the U.S.

The report identified a multitude of food-security problems including hunger, obesity, malnutrition, low crop yields, inadequate food storage, poor sanitation and related political instability. These problems are poised to intensify unless there is a deliberate effort to create true global food and nutrition security, the commission concluded.

The report suggests that the search for sustainable solutions grows even more complicated in the face of a rapidly growing world population, limited natural resources, changing climates, and evolving diets that demand more high-value food products.

7 challenges for public research universities

During its yearlong study, the commission defined the following seven challenges:

  • Increase yields, profitability and environmental sustainability simultaneously
  • Develop the varieties and breeds needed for sustainable food systems
  • Decrease food loss and waste through more efficient distribution systems
  • Create and share resources that serve all populations
  • Ensure inclusive and equitable food systems
  • Address the dual burdens of under-nutrition and obesity to ensure full human potential
  • Ensure a safe and secure food supply that protects and improves public health

“The challenge is helping to bring public research universities together in a coordinated way, with support from the government and others, to make it a reality,” said APLU President Peter McPherson, a former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Many view this as a problem of feeding a growing population by 2050, but the challenge is already upon us, with far too many people suffering from food and nutrition insecurity,” McPherson said. “If we do not address these problems now, the solutions will become more intractable, the costs greater, and the human, social, economic and environmental damage irreparable.” 

Challenge of Change Commission

The Challenge of Change Commission is composed of 34 members including university leaders, subject matter experts, and current and former private and public sector officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In addition to the commission members, more than 100 individuals from universities, the public and private sector, and nongovernmental organizations were engaged in the project as members of interdisciplinary working groups or expert advisors. Similarly, more than 75 organizations were invited to provide comment and feedback throughout the process.