I was privileged to be part of a U.S. government delegation that traveled to Iowa this week for events surrounding the World Food Prize. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the prize, which recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. The winners, former President of Ghana, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, and the former President of Brazil, H.E. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, were honored for the remarkable improvements in food security and poverty alleviation achieved under their leadership by investing in agriculture and agricultural workers.
The World Food Prize is a fantastic event, bringing in government, private sector, non-governmental organization leaders, academia, and media from around the globe to discuss agricultural innovation and food security. These are vital issues: nearly one billion people -- one seventh of the world's population -- suffer from chronic hunger. Because of extreme hunger and poverty, children, adults, and indeed entire societies are hindered from achieving their full potential. And agricultural productivity and food security will only become more critical in the coming decades -- the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a doubling of agricultural output will be needed by 2050 to feed a population of more than 9 billion people. That doubling of production will need to occur despite challenges caused by climate change, including water shortages and increased salinity of soil. We have an enormous task ahead of us to maintain and expand our economic growth in the agricultural sector.
But we can meet this challenge. Through a multi-pronged approach, and efforts by governments, business, and civil society, we are adapting to change and moving forward. Through technology, we are making seeds more drought tolerant and pest resistant. Through development projects, we are improving farmers' practices, access to credit and to markets, and addressing gender inequalities that inhibit agricultural production. Through knowledge sharing, we are improving the quality, reliability, accuracy, timeliness, and comparability of data on agricultural markets. And through improvements in supply chains, we are reducing pre- and post-harvest losses and ensuring more food reaches consumers. As a global community, we will need to continue and expand these programs in order to meet our future challenges.
While I was in Iowa, I had an opportunity to focus on one of several tools that can contribute solutions: agricultural biotechnology. Since the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture 15 years ago, the impact has been tremendous both in terms of agricultural productivity and the world economy. New agricultural technologies have doubled the production of food since 1960 and increased per-capita food supplies in the developing world by 25 percent. Biotech crops can, and have, increased productivity and incomes significantly. They have served as an engine of rural economic growth and contribute to the alleviation of poverty for the world's small and resource-poor farmers. There are also environmental and sustainable benefits: less pesticides, less water, and less tillage. Plus, there's the bonus of better nutritional value of crops. Despite all of these gains and benefits, the adoption of agricultural biotechnology has not been a smooth path. It has been, and remains, fraught with political debate that in many countries overshadows the science. New crops are waiting to move from labs to the farmer, but lack a clear pathway. Functioning, science-based regulatory systems are necessary to make such transfers possible.
Governments play an indispensable role in this. They can attract investment and facilitate access to new technologies. They can design and implement predictable, transparent, and science-based regulatory frameworks. Government commitment can help leverage private sector investment for the latest scientific innovations and technologies. With the knowledge gained over the past 15 years, it is possible to design appropriate regulatory systems that are responsible and rigorous, but not onerous, therefore requiring modest resources within the means of most developing countries. If we and the rest of the world are to accelerate food production to the levels necessary, countries will need such systems not only to facilitate trade, but to pave the way for the greater use of biotechnology. The United States wants to work in partnership with the developing world to expand the role of biotechnology.
While in Des Moines, I had productive discussions with visiting African ministers of agriculture, joining U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. I asked them to think about how we can turn our discussions into concrete actions to advance the role of biotechnology in ways that are beneficial to their home nations.
During this trip, I also participated in several outreach events to advance the dialogue on the promise of biotechnology:
• At a rural roundtable, I had a stimulating discussion with agricultural businesspeople, community leaders, farmers, and ranchers about how to further improve the economy and create jobs.
• Another highlight was meeting with students from the Political Science Department and the Center for Prairie Studies at Grinnell College and getting their thoughts on feeding a growing world.
• I shared views with agricultural CEOs on how the next generation must confront hunger.
• Joining a distinguished panel, I participated in a lively webcast discussion on innovation's role in food security.
• I enjoyed meeting with several journalists, both local and international, and talking about public perceptions of this issue.
The week's events demonstrated how powerful it can be when the interests of governments, companies, farmers, and consumers intersect. In the case of food security, all sectors will benefit from reforms and increased use of biotechnology. I hope that nations who have concerns about the use of these products will continue discussing those concerns with us and learn from the application and successes of biotechnology. Together, we can tackle the challenges of our changing world.