Report: Coordinate Efforts to Solve Food, Nutrition Security

With the world facing a vast array of food and nutrition security challenges that pose significant humanitarian, environmental and national security risks, a national commission that included leaders from Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) announced May 16 a comprehensive, coordinated effort to solve these problems.

The Challenge of Change Commission comprises prominent university, government, nongovernmental organizations and business leaders. The report from the commission – which includes Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS; Mike Hoffmann, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and professor of entomology; and Per Pinstrup-Anderson, professor emeritus in nutrition and economics – emphasized a transdisciplinary approach leveraging the role of public research universities to solve food security issues. Max Pfeffer, international professor of development sociology and CALS senior associate dean, served as an invited expert on the commission.

“Food insecurity is one of the most daunting issues that we face today. The challenges will only intensify without coordinated efforts by public and private partners,” said Boor. “Harnessing food systems expertise at Cornell and other Land-Grant universities will enable bold action to protect the health and well-being of people around the globe. The steps outlined by the commission provide a path forward for scientists and policy experts as we work together to achieve food and nutrition security.”

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, launched the commission in 2016. The commission’s report recommends four key steps:

  • Create a major, sustained effort by the more than 230 public research universities and university systems in the U.S., Canada and Mexico that comprise APLU, including further developing recommendations to reduce institutional barriers to cross-disciplinary research.
  • Encourage multiple federal departments and public agencies to work to achieve domestic and global food security by mobilizing private sector and foundation resources to address the challenges.
  • Urge governments of the U.S., Mexico and Canada to together sponsor collaborative research partnerships with universities and their partners to advance the report’s recommendations.
  • Encourages public universities and their partners to identify challenges and related activities they might undertake, including partnering with public and private entities in agriculture, public health, nutrition and health care.

The APLU said food security problems – hunger, obesity, malnutrition, low crop yields, inadequate food storage, poor sanitation, and the political instability they create – are poised to intensify unless there is a deliberate effort to create true global food and nutrition security. The report calls for the academic, research and leadership capabilities of public research universities to address food and nutrition security.

“Public universities possess enormous capacity across many disciplines – from plant breeding to the social sciences – to respond to global challenges,” said Hoffmann.

The commission defined seven challenges: increase yields, profitability and environmental sustainability simultaneously; develop 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 undernutrition and obesity to ensure full human potential; and ensure a safe and secure food supply that protects and improves public health.

Cornell researchers took part in interdisciplinary groups to provide subject expertise for the report. Rachel Bezner Kerr, associate professor in the Department of Development Sociology, joined with the Sustainable Production Systems working group to identify ways to increase plant and animal agricultural production yields, enhance and maintain soil health, and use water sustainably and efficiently. Miguel Gómez, associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, focused on challenges across the food supply chain domestically and globally as part of the working group Supply Chains, Distribution, Loss and Waste in Food Systems.

Pinstrup-Anderson, the 2001 World Food Prize winner, said: “Universities are uniquely positioned to provide the science-based knowledge required to guide public and private sector action to help assure healthy diets for all. Scientific discoveries combined with enlightened policies for our food systems can make nutrient deficiencies and obesity a thing of the past.”