ForumResearch That Helps To
November brings the harvest's end and Thanksgiving in
the United States. It is a season when we spend a lot of time with food
on our minds and on our tables. But in many places around the world,
food production still isn't keeping people well nourished. Hunger persists
for more than 800 million people.
At the World Food Summit in 1996, heads of state and gov
ernment pledged to work toward food security for all and to halve the
number of undernourished people by 2015. Today
The net rate of decline is not nearly enough to reach
the World Food Summit target. To do that, the numbers must fall by about
20 million a year, according to a bold statement recently issued by
15 past World Food Prize laureates. The annual World Food Prize, often
regarded an equivalent to the Nobel Prize, honors those who have made
significant contributions to improving world food security. It was conceived
in 1986 by Norman E. Borlaug, who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize
as father of the Green Revolution.
The laureates call for a recommitment to reaching the
World Food Summit goal. Their statement can be found in its entirety
The statement also specifically recognizes the importance
of strong public and international research institutions and continued
research investment to enhance agricultural productivity. "It was
efforts at just such institutions...that produced the great gains in
agricultural production during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, averting famine
in many areas," they write.
Factors that contribute to hunger are many and complex,
often involving issues and infrastructure far beyond agriculture. But
new knowledge and technology derived from research can help remedy malnutrition
by finding new ways to improve harvestswhether through breeding
plants for higher levels of dietary nutrients, preventing postharvest
spoilage of crops, or developing practices that minimize the need for
Many research advances from ARS
and other U.S. institutions have been put to work locally and globally.
Some projects are specifically aimed at improving nutrition in those
most vulnerable to hunger in the developing world. For example, micronutrient
deficiencies, particularly of vitamin A, iron, and zinc, affect more
than half the population of West Africa. ARS is working with Nigerian
scientists to develop maize cultivars with higher bioavailability of
these essential nutrients. This would be a valuable advance for Nigeria
and other countries where a maize-intense diet is common.
Other ARS programs that target hunger in developing countries
include work to improve the nutritional value of Andean potatoes, potentially
boosting the health of subsistence farmers in Bolivia and other Andean
countries, and finding ways to fight fungal diseases of bananas and
plantains, such as sigatoka.
International research cooperation is essential to global
progress. As the laureates point out, "It is imperative that we
work together to strengthen the research and policy framework underpinning
the necessary productivity increases in agriculture, livestock, and
aquatic resources in an environmentally sustainable way."
ARS believes international partnerships mean strength in research and benefits for us all. An excellent example of the benefits is cocoa, a critical cash crop for small farmers in many tropical nations. It accounts for more than 50 percent of the export earnings of some West African nations and is important to farmers in the tropical areas of Andean nations.
But cocoa trees are threatened by fungal diseases. ARS has established
collaborative research programs to develop solu tions to these disease
problems. Success will mean that small farmers in these developing countries
will continue to have a cash crop to allow them to buy food. This in
turn provides social stability to bolster food production and distribution.
It will also benefit U.S. agriculture, particularly producers of dairy
products, peanuts, sweeteners, and tree nuts. More than 50 percent of
all U.S. almonds go directly to the chocolate manufacturing industry,
and well over 70 percent of U.S. peanuts go to the candy industry or
to secondary products such as oils and butter.
ARS has a proud history of helping solve the problem of hunger. Three
ARS scientists are among the Laureates who have been honored with the
World Food Prize. In 1992, ARS entomologists Raymond Bushland and Edward
F. Knipling received the World Food Prize for developing the sterile
insect technique to control the screwworm, a pest that has caused enormous
losses in livestock. In 1996, Henry M. Beachell was honored for his
lifetime achievements in rice breedinginitially with ARS and then
with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. Beachell
is considered the father of the Green Revolution in rice, which has
ARS is pleased to be a part of the global research team that is enhancing agriculture's ability to feed the world's population. We salute Pedro A. Sanchez, the 2002 World Food Prize laureate, and all the former laureates for their accomplishments and continuing vision and leadership.
Edward B. Knipling
"Forum" was published in the November 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.