Craig Gundersen 2015-02-23 23:28:34
A central focus of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois is to reduce food insecurity across the world. I participate in these efforts as the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and as the Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL). My own research interests concentrate on the causes and consequences of food insecurity and the evaluation of food assistance programs. At NSRL, we facilitate research that improves the yields and profitability of farmers in Illinois, we promote the effective use of soybeans in animal and human nutrition, and we further the use of soybeans for human nutrition in dozens of lower-income and lower-middle income countries across the world. Hundreds of millions of people across the world are food insecure, and many more are at risk of being food insecure. Alleviating this food insecurity and the resulting health problems and other consequences is the most important challenge facing the world today, and it will be even more daunting as the population increases to 9 billion by 2050. Here, I articulate three paths that we can pursue toward this goal. Increased use of soybeans in human nutrition Protein malnutrition is a common problem in low-income and low-to-middle income countries. For most of those suffering from protein malnutrition, diets with animal sources of protein are too expensive. When this is the case, soybeans are an excellent alternative, as they are by far the most cost-effective source of protein, they constitute a complete protein, and they can be readily incorporated into existing local cuisines. Regarding that last point, as an example, NSRL is heading up the nutrition component of a recent multi-million dollar grant from USAID to the University of Illinois to establish the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL), which is designed to promote the production and use of soybeans in Feed the Future countries (www.feedthefuture.gov). For the SIL, we at NSRL are promoting soy in human nutrition through two mechanisms. First, in partnership with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), we are setting up Soycows and Vitagoats, which are small-scale production methods to produce soymilk. Second, we are establishing new pathways to introduce in-home processing and utilization of soybeans in partnership with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Since soybeans are not generally part of the diet in the countries that the SIL addresses, successful establishment of soybeans will require instruction in processing and the development of appropriate recipes for local cuisines. Allowing the use of effective technologies There is a limited amount of land that can be utilized to feed the world and, as the number of people increases, this will become an ever more important constraint. To address this constraint, farmers across the world need to be able to use the most effective available technologies and, currently, this entails the use of genetically modified seeds. Through the use of these technologies, farmers can dramatically increase yields while using less inputs and, hence, be more sustainable. A key result is that more food at lower prices is made available to those with limited resources. Unfortunately, there are various groups around the world who seek to limit the use of genetically modified seeds, and they have been successful in meeting this objective in some places. In the near term, this has resulted in millions of people around the world being mired in food insecurity. In the longer term, if these groups continue to succeed, millions of people will continue to be food insecure and, more broadly, research to generate even more innovative genetic modifications will be discouraged. If a country is interested in ending malnutrition across the world, eliminating all impediments to advanced agricultural technologies, including genetically modified products, is essential. Of particular importance are technologies related to soybeans, given their role as a key provider of protein in both human and animal consumption. Encouraging free trade The benefits of free trade for the wellbeing of low-income people across the world are well established. Alongside other benefits, free trade ensures lower prices, less price volatility, and the allocation of scarce inputs to their most effective uses. As poor people are most negatively affected by high food prices and by food price volatility, free trade is especially beneficial for them. Despite the proven benefits associated with free trade, there is continued resistance to opening up borders for trade. For those who want to reduce food insecurity in both their own country and in other countries, promoting free trade and removing barriers to free trade are both essential. Craig Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, and Executive Director, National Soybean Research Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, USA; firstname.lastname@example.org. Top photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of USDA-ARS. Mid-page photo by the author.
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