Tackling Global Food Security In 5 New Ways

“The planet is becoming more crowded, hungrier, thirstier and hotter,” says Manjit Misra, Global Food Security Consortium director, Seed Science Center director and professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State. “The consortium is attempting to alleviate poverty both domestically and internationally through collaborative partnerships.” Launched in the summer of 2013, the consortium was developed in response to Iowa State President Steven Leath’s call to university researchers for multidisciplinary programs “that tackle some of the grand challenges facing our world.”

Worldwide, 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger and even more suffer from undernutrition, according to a 2014 United Nations report. Food security – having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food – is a complex issue that requires a broad range of interventions in agriculture, water supply, policy development and education.

Here are five ways the Global Food Security Consortium (GFSC) has begun to tackle this important challenge.

1. Growing a worldwide network of food security experts.

“Our goal is to bring the best people together to collaborate on projects related to food security,” says Max Rothschild, co-director of the consortium, associate director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and Distinguished Professor in agriculture. Rothschild and Misra grow the consortium through one-on-one contacts and meetings, such as the April research symposium held at Iowa State, where more than 180 scientists and community leaders discussed innovation in food security science. Fifty researchers and community leaders at Iowa State and other campuses and organizations in the U.S. and abroad are now members of the consortium.

2. Developing new science and technology.

Five major research focuses are promoted by the consortium: Germplasm and Seed Systems; Climate Resilient Crops; Climate Resilient Animals; Post-harvest and Utilization; and Policies, Regulations and Trade. Within each research focus, research teams also address capacity building, socio-economics and natural resource management.

3. Bringing new funding to the table.

Consortium teams of global experts are responding to funding opportunities and seeking out grants to support their research and new technologies. For example, last fall animal science professors Susan Lamont and Jack Dekkers successfully partnered with researchers at University of California, Davis and two universities in Ghana and Tanzania. Together they obtained a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to study the genetic makeup of chickens in Africa to breed for heat-tolerance and disease-resistance.

4. Sharing science and technology with the world.

“Advances in sustainable crop and livestock science and transferring the technology to the private sector and communities are at the very heart of solving this grand challenge,” says Rothschild. He and Misra traveled to Washington, D.C., in October to meet leaders in government, implementing agencies and foundations. In addition to technology development, the significant scholarly exchanges and research among consortium members is expected to foster entrepreneurial opportunities for Iowa, the nation and smallholder farmers worldwide.

5. Training the next generation of global food security scientists.

Consortium members are working to create opportunities and attract increasing numbers of students to Iowa State and affiliated partner institutions, in the area of food security research. For example, one consortium team made up of North American, European and African experts is working to strengthen post graduate programs integrating seed science, business and systems at six universities in Africa. Support was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.