Failure is Not an Option in Addressing Global Food Scarcity

By Emma Likens

The Agricultural Research Division oversees all of the research within the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the human science units of the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska, according to Archie Clutter, Dean of the Agricultural Research Division at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The areas of research are focused on food, fuel, water and people, and range from cropping, grazing and ecosystems to human nutrition and early childhood development.

Tremendous challenges, tremendous opportunities

Clutter said there are tremendous challenges facing agricultural producers to feed a population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. He said these challenges are not far off and will hit during the lifetime of today's young people.

"Failure is not an option. It puts pressure on food availability, it puts pressure on food cost. Those things can cause instability around the world," Clutter said. Food scarcity issues can put downward pressure on economic systems locally and globally, and inhibit quality of life.

While there are tremendous challenges, Clutter also believes there are tremendous opportunities within the university and Nebraska to take a global leadership position in facing those challenges, thanks to university programs and Nebraska's natural resources. Clutter said the variety of growing conditions within the state create a living laboratory and allow for research that will impact Nebraska and other parts of the world.

Clutter also looks to advances in technology and research methods and drawing young, bright minds into agricultural sciences. "People are what fuel this process," Clutter said, "The only way we're going to be creative enough and powerful enough in our research is if we have the people that can take it up a notch." He said important research is more than innovation or creativity; it also is about operating research programs in more strategic and efficient ways.

Global food challenges

Soybean fieldClutter said food scarcity can take many forms, and so can the research in the Agricultural Research Division to address scarcity issues. He said degrees of food scarcity can range from people who don't have the nutrients they need to be healthy to real starvation, usually because "there's not the right combination of local food production and distribution of food."

He also attributes the causes of food scarcity to political situations or the cost of food relative to the means of the people. If the cost of food becomes too great, it can cause instability. Clutter hopes that as the global population grows, so will prosperity. He cites examples of expected population and prosperity growth in India, China and Brazil, which will bring new demands on food supply. "The nine billion people that we expect to be on the planet by 2050 or before may consume more like 12 billion people based on today's food per-capita consumption rates," he said.

More food consumption will bring more pressures on food supply. "They're going to be significant players in not only the global food demand, but also the economic engine that will need to fund research in agricultural sciences," Clutter said, including research that will be done at the University of Nebraska.

Genetic potential becoming more practical

Clutter looks to genetic potential as a starting point to provide food for the world. Over the past several years, he said, crop yield improvements have been leveling out, which creates a yield gap. Traditionally, genetic gains in plants and animals were made by selecting favorable characteristics in a species, then breeding the next generation. Clutter said the use of genomic information, or DNA, has been used in the past decade to determine characteristics and the potential for transmitting favorable traits in plants and animals. He said the cost of genotyping, or sequencing the DNA of a species, has been drastically reduced and will make it a more practical technology to accelerate rates of improvement in genetic capacity.

Clutter said yields of important crops increased annually at a rate of 1.1 to 1.4 percent during the Green Revolution, a period of great technological development between the 1940s and late 1970s during which global agricultural production increased dramatically. With genomic information, he hopes to see rates increase to 1.8 percent annually by pushing genetic capacity and narrowing yield gaps, which will make it possible to feed nine billion people in the coming decades.

Return on investment

The Agricultural Research Division receives base funding from the state of Nebraska; from USDA formula funding determined by factors such as population; and from grant dollars originating from federal agencies and private sector partners. A recent independent study estimated that the programs of the Agricultural Research Division have averaged a 36 percent return on investment for over 30 years. Clutter said there are many great examples of this funding at work for the betterment of Nebraska and the world, and offers one of those examples within the division that demonstrates the impact the investment can have on global food supply. UNL wheat breeder Stephen Baenziger estimates that increased genetic capacity created through his wheat breeding program can account for more than $70 million of annual revenue to Nebraska, which is about a 20 to 1 return on investment. Clutter said more importantly, Baenziger has concluded this impact results in feeding nearly 3 million additional people every day.


The Morrill Act of 1862


A Message From:

Harvey Perlman

Ronnie Green

Steven Waller

Facing the Global Food Challenge

A Place Without Limits: NU's Leading Role in Ag Innovation - J.B. Milliken

"Ag is Sexy Again" as Global Need for Food Increases- Ronnie Green

Today's Students- Learning to Solve the Challenge of Feeding the World- Steven Waller

Ag Researchers' New Knowledge Benefits Nebraska, the World - Ron Yoder

"Failure is Not an Option" in Addressing Global Food Scarcity- Archie Clutter

Nebraska Innovation Campus Will Address Global Food Issues- Dan Duncan

Lenton the Founding Director of Daugherty Water for Food Institute- Roberto Lenton

Growing More Food with Less Water, Improving Global Water Condition- Marc Andreini

Dickey Reflects on Years as Dean of Extension- Elbert Dickey

Food Scarcity Information Dissemination Complex, Vital- Karen Cannon

Technology and Food

Driving Toward the Future of Biofuels, Molecular Nutrition- Paul Black

Nebraska- the Food Capital of the World?- Rolando Flores

Is a Fully-Sustainable World Within Reach?- Mark Burbach

Agricultural Efficiency Sustains Resources, Produces More- Roch Gaussoin

Technology, Teamwork and Stewardship Vital in Meeting 2050 Global Food Need- P. Stephen Baenziger

UNL Research, Extension Help Ag Producers Manage a Changing Climate- Suat Irmak

Protein Production Essential in Feeding the World- Matt Spangler

Nebraska's Irrigation Research Goes Global- William Kranz

The Plight of the Honey Bee- Marion Ellis

Global Goal: Reducing Hunger, Ensuring Food Safety and Nutrition- Tim Carr

Society's Health Reflects Changing Food Culture- Georgia Jones and Marilynn Schnepf

Steps to Building a Healthier World- Jean Ann Fischer

Economics of Food

Ag Economists- Working to Assure Abundant, Safe Food- Larry Van Tassell

Global Food Scarcity, Distribution, Roadblocks- Dennis Conley

Global Economics Research Explains Food Scarcity Challenges- Lilyan Fulginiti

World Food Supply Adequate, but Poverty is the Problem- Wes Peterson

Ag Land Reflects Value of Growing Food for the Future- Bruce Johnson

Strengthening World Economies, Increased Production Key to Food Challenges- Eric Thompson

There is No Place Like Nebraska for Meeting Food Challenges- Greg Ibach

A Land of Plenty- Exporting to the World Stan Garbacz- Stan Garbacz