Expo Milano and Global Action Platform Collaborations to Feed the Planet

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Written by Dr. Scott T. Massey, Guest Contributor

In 2012, Global Action Platform conducted the first global summit to frame issues for the agenda of ExpoMilano2015. Opening with an assessment of food issues from the World Bank, the inagural program examined food production, climate, logistics, nutrition/diet, the culture of food, and ended with a keynote from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. The global dialogue on food launched at the Summit in 2012 has continued annually since then and has now become an ongoing collaboration to build scalable, sustainable solutions for abundant food, health, and prosperity.

This year, in 2015, Global Action Platform expands its work related to feeding the planet through support of the new Sustainable Development Goals and the launch of an urban development campus to serve as a center of innovation and best practices.

Global Action Platform is a university-business alliance working on global food, health, and economic issues. From its headquarters as the global think tank and trusted convener for oneC1TY, a twenty-acre innovation park in Nashville, Tennessee, Global Action Platform is working to find solutions for abundance. With over a million square feet of space, encompassing two hotels, a conference center, business accelerator, offices, two residential towers, a farmers’ market, resturants, retail, and entertainment, oneC1TY is a living laboratory for nutritious food, mindful healthy living, and shared value economic development.

Urbanization and food are increasingly interconnected challenges. oneC1TY addresses the primary need of today’s global cities—to create a new infrastructure to support the human capital essential to sustainable communities and economies. The World Bank projects that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas in the next three decades. Cities that design to empower their people will thrive; those that do not will struggle and decay. oneC1TY is designed to respond to this urban challenge and opportunity. At oneC1TY—Nashville, and its future locations aroudn the world, the resources needed by today’s creative class are hyper-connected in a community dedicated to innovation.

The rapid urbanization of the world’s population also creates new challenges and opportunities for food and rural development. Nearly 60% of the built envirnoment needed for the world’s population in 2050 does not currently exist. Expanding cities will consume more and more of the land around them, pushing agriculture further from people. By placing food and agriculture at the top of the agenda at the campus, oneC1TY and Global Action Platform are helping to prioritize food challenges and innovations and to preserve a thoughtful connection between urban and rural communities.

At the world food Expo in Milan, the world will celebrate and experience the rich history and culture of food. The Expo also provides occasion to consider the tremendous future challenges and opportunities to end hunger, improve nutrition, and achieve sustainable agriculture.   Looking forward, experts working with the Global Action Platform have identied the following major challenges and opportunities for food.

CHALLENGES

Historically, the world has done an adequate job of feeding its people, even as the global population surged from 1.5 billion a century ago to 7 billion today.

But the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that this century the world will have to increase food production by 70% (grains by 43%, meat by 75%) to meet the nutritional demands of a global population that some estimate will be 3 billion people more by the century’s end. This production increase must occur amid negative effects from climate change, less predictable and secure supplies of water, and increasing demands on agricultural products for other uses, like biomaterials and biofuels.

Robert Townsend, Senior Economist at the World Bank has identified the following four challenges:

  1. The responsiveness of the food system. This system must be flexible enough to withstand supply shocks (due to weather) or demand shocks (due to increased demand from industrial uses of food, such as biofuels). From 2008 to 2012, there were three major global food price shocks that were not well tolerated by many countries. An integrated global food system is needed that can respond to such shocks by adjusting trade and information flows to minimize the impacts, i.e., moving food from places of surplus to places of deficit and helping hard-hit nations with trade policy.
  2. Achieving poverty reduction targets in poor countries. There is twice as much primary agriculture as agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa. As agribusiness grows there and in other poor countries, a challenge will be to develop inclusive systems that ensure smallholder farmers participate in the benefits of growth.
  3. Making agricultural systems sustainable. In many places, agricultural systems result in degradation of resources—land, water, and atmosphere. Agriculture systems that restore soil nutrients and use water more efficiently are needed, along with policies that support planting crops that use the appropriate amount of water for the climate. Also needed is innovation that makes agriculture not only a huge climate-change contributor but also part of the solution. It is one of the few industries that can actually absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Technologies and metrics to enhance those effects need developing.
  4. Having a food system that improves health. Some 800 million to 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, but that figure is dropping while obesity rates are rising, even in developing countries. As a result, non-communicable diseases (heart disease, diabetes) are rising in these countries, stressing healthcare systems and costs. Building food ecosystems that promote better health outcomes is critical; doing so will mean influencing consumer choice, partly through government policy.

For poor countries, challenges are spoilage throughout the supply chain, the need to increase yields, and bringing sophisticated farming and business techniques to smallholder farms. In wealthy countries, a major challenge is changing consumption patterns to encourage better health outcomes. Other challenges include educating consumers and policymakers about food safety, the need for innovative food technologies, the urgent need to address food-sufficiency challenges, and attracting students to the fields of agriculture, nutrition, and food technology, and exciting them about the pressing challenges of transforming global food systems via technology and innovation.

OPPORTUNITIES

Recent press on global food challenges (including “Leverage Points for Improving Global Food Security and the Environment” in the July 18, 2014 issue of Science) suggests that focusing on improving yields of 17 important grains and vegetables, via use of improved seeds, and taking other targeted measures could go far in building the world’s capacity to feed its people. Roger Beachy, a lead food advisor to the Global Action Platform and Director, World Food Center, UC Davis, has identified other areas of opportunity to help us meet the world’s food nutrition needs:

  • Improving soil health
  • Increasing the efficiency of water and fertilizer use
  • Adapting to climate change
  • Reducing overuse and runoff of fertilizers and agricultural chemicals
  • Improving water quality and safety
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Adapting technologies that allow for better communication with farmers
  • Increasing the public focus on foods that promote health and on food safety
  • Reducing the use of major crops for biofuels
  • Reducing pre-and post-harvest food losses and food waste wherever it occurs
  • Improving food supply-chain management

Beachy expresses confidence in the ingenuity of scientists, policymakers, and the public to rise to these challenges so that innovations in agriculture and food science will be allowed to advance. Bruce German, another senior advisor to the Global Action Platform and Director of the Institute on Health and Food, also expresses optimism that solutions will be reached, emphasizing the urgent need to act. However, more is needed than the right scientific solutions and innovative business models. Also critical is building a global ecosystem that supports food abundance by:

  • Cultivating collaboration and trust. It will take collaboration among many kinds of organizations and people to implement solutions at scale. This includes food technologists and research scientists, academia, governments, NGOs, the private sector, and consumers. As public awareness of the impending food challenges grows,       it is hoped that awareness will also grow that “we’re all in this together.” M.R.C. Greenwood, UC Davis, sees a new potential career path for scientists: as interpreters, working in government, for example, as trusted scientific legislative advisors.
  • Training and motivating the next generation to seek innovative solutions. We have to inspire the next generation to start innovating in agriculture and food. Greenwood believes young people going into agribusiness today are interested not in farming, as it traditionally has been done, but in discovering new technology-enabled models for doing it better, “the farming version of Uber.” However, students interested in the field haven’t been given optimal career pathways.
  • Creating forward-thinking organizations that move the ball forward. Beachy’s formula for doing so includes:
  1. Framing the questions
  2. Engaging stakeholders
  3. Identifying partners tasked with solutions
  4. Engaging goal-oriented experts
  5. Ensuring that policymakers are aware of the needs and supportive of the means for achieving goals, so new technologies can be moved into the marketplace
  6. Maintaining transparency throughout these processes

Many organizations working with the Global Action Platform are moving along these lines, with initiatives to raise awareness, support the discovery of solutions, and advance the agenda of global food security. Some of these initiatives include:

The World Food Center, UC Davis is a university-wide center that fosters research collaboration across departments. Its thematic pillars include promoting a stable future for agriculture and the consumer, sustainability across the food system, and healthier food outcomes. UC Davis hopes to become a go-to source for information on food and agriculture. It has established the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy. To help leverage current capabilities in agriculture and health, it has established the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, with a contribution by Mars.

CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food- secure future. Fifteen research centers generate and disseminate knowledge, technologies, and policies for agricultural development.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, a sister organization of CGIAR, has 11 seed banks, with more than a million accessions of crop and forestry species—“the crown jewels of agriculture.” The new crop breeds these seed banks could enable might present solutions to the agricultural challenges of the future.

Institute of Food Technologists, with 20,000 members around the world, is using the occasion of its 75th birthday as a platform for advocacy. Associated activities include interviewing 75 thought leaders (more information here) and producing a documentary with award-winning director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, to correct misinformation and educate

[i] The following sections are excerpts from the 2015 Global Action Report, published by Global Action Platform and the Diplomatic Courier.