San Bernardino
University of California
San Bernardino

Posts Tagged: world population

World Food Center at UC Davis will tackle global issues

When you think casually of “food,” you may think of your next meal or your favorite food. “World food” may broaden your thinking to include international cuisines, global hunger, or a growing population. But the academic fields related to food are numerous. Food is one of life’s basic necessities, and along with its associated issues it is essential to the health and well-being of everyone, whatever their locale, education, or income level.

The new World Food Center at UC Davis will take on a broad purview related to food, including sustainable agricultural and environmental practices, food security and safety, hunger, poverty reduction through improved incomes, health and nutrition, population growth, new foods, genomics, food distribution systems, food waste, intellectual property distribution related to food, economic development and new technologies and policies.

With rapid global population growth occurring on smaller amounts of arable land, coupled with the expected impacts of climate change on food production, understanding the sustainability of food into the future is critical.

The new center’s website notes, “The World Food Center at UC Davis takes a ‘big picture’ approach to sustainably solving humanity’s most pressing problems in food and health. By bringing together world-class scientists with innovators, philanthropists and industry and public leaders, the center will generate the kind of visionary knowledge and practical policy solutions that will feed and nurture people for decades to come.”

In establishing the World Food Center, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said, “We did this to fully capitalize on our depth and expertise as the world’s leading university for education, research and scholarship on all aspects of food, but especially the nexus between food and health.”

UC Davis is the top-ranked agricultural university in the world, and California is the major producer of vegetables and fruit in the nation. Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, says of the World Food Center’s location at UC Davis, “There’s no place else that has the right mix of educational programs, research facilities, and the engagement with the state.”

The major academic disciplines surrounding food are found at UC Davis — agriculture, the environment, medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, social and cultural sciences, and management. More than 30 centers and institutes at UC Davis will be pulled together through the World Food Center. The combination of scholarship, leadership, and partnerships at UC Davis has already established the campus as a center for food-related science and outreach. This new center will reinforce that strength and broaden the university’s ability to tackle tough global issues related to food.

Although the founding director of the center has yet to be named, Josette Lewis, Ph.D., was recently appointed as the associate director of the World Food Center. Her background on international research and development for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and director of its Office of Agriculture, honed her skills to take on the World Food Center. It was at US AID that she worked on a major global hunger and food security initiative, establishing her expertise on issues related to global agricultural development and food security.

As the new World Food Center becomes fully developed, it will be well-positioned on campus to continue to solve the major global issues related to food that are a hallmark of UC Davis.

Additional information:

Solving the 2050 Hunger Game

The world population is more than seven billion, and by 2050 that number is set to rise to nine billion — an increase of 50 percent since 2000.  Can we possibly feed so many people?

Yes, according to Prabhu Pingali, who was invited to UC Riverside last week by the One Health Center to give a talk.  Pingali, the deputy director of the Agriculture Development Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has more than three decades of experience in the field of agriculture.  His hour-long talk focused on how nine billion people on the planet can be fed. 

He explained that agriculture was on no one’s agenda from 1988 to about 2006-2007.  But today it is back.  “I am in the right profession,” he said, smiling.

He said the world experienced a sharp increase in food prices in 2008 due to a “perfect storm” — a rapid demand for food quantity and quality (in terms of diversity) and a high volatility in food prices — and a large group of people adopted a pessimistic view of the world’s food production thereafter.  The world will not be able to feed itself, they warn.

“But we’ve been here before and we have come out of it,” said Pingali, who has authored ten books and more than 100 refereed journal articles and book chapters on food policy, technological change, productivity growth and resource management in the developing world.  “Actually, things are not as bad as you think they are.  I take a more positive view.”

The audience sat up straight, ears pricked up, eyes trained firmly on Pingali’s slides.

He explained that in 1963 the world experienced a massive food deficit but that by 1970 the overall food outputs matched population growth rates, with Southeast and East Asia showing the fastest rise in productivity.

“Only in sub-Saharan Africa was there a decrease in productivity,” he said.  “Technology made the change possible.  But technology cannot do it alone.  If government support had not also taken place, we would not have seen a change.”

Looking ahead

Pingali’s slides showed how on the demand side in Asia and Latin America the per capita consumption of staple grain is declining rapidly.  As incomes increase, he said, the per capita consumption of wheat and corn decreases and diets get diversified, with people seeking higher quality food.

He predicted more consumption of meat, milk and dairy products in the future.  In East Asia, meat consumption will be about 80 kg per person per year in 2050 (in 1975, it was less than 20 kg per person per year; in 2000 it was about 40 kg per person per year).  Further, in the future much biofuel will be from cellulosic technology and other forms of waste, not grain.

But what about land area?  Will there be any left to produce food for two billion more people?  Pingali thinks so.  He said overall 4.2 billion hectares of land on the planet are suitable to cultivation; of this area, only about 1.7 billion hectares are already under cultivation.

“We will see an intensification of land already under cultivation, that is, growing a crop more frequently on the same land,” he said.  “One reason these areas are currently not productive is poor soil — acidity, erosion, sloping lands, low organic matter and low nitrogen.”

Pingali predicts water scarcity will be a growing constraint. He explained that currently enormous wastage of water occurs in many parts of the world, but that water use can be better managed.

According to him, we can expect that the following steps will be needed to manage future food production: changing cropping patterns; improved tolerance to drought and submergence; increased use of hybrids; and better land and water management practices.

What should we do?

Pingali thinks we should keep the focus on agriculture and invest in smallholder productivity growth.

“Technology, including biotechnology, will be an important part of the solution,” he said. “Policies that enable and encourage smallholder productivity growth are crucial.  We need to pay particular attention to stress-prone environments and invest in a long-term strategy for biofuels that does not rely on increased use of food grains.”

Pingali predicts Malthus will be proven wrong again because of “our ingenuity and our ability to deal with resource scarcity through technical innovation and focused policy change.”

At the end of his talk, several hands went up and a vibrant Q&A ensued.  Unfortunately, I never got to ask my question, time being up: “Dr. Pingali, how would your talk today change for feeding a world population of 15 billion?

Not by much, I suspect he’d have said with confidence and no hesitation, his unstoppable optimism swelling further in the room.

Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Webmaster Email: haller@ucdavis.edu