Feeding for the future

by Eric Schroeder
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The question of whether the world will be able to feed 9.7 billion people is a matter of concern.

ARLINGTON, VA. — The question of whether the world will be able to feed 9.7 billion people drew a range of responses at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 92nd annual Agricultural Outlook Forum held Feb. 25-26 at the Crystal Gateway Marriot hotel in Arlington.

In a Plenary Panel featuring top level executives, Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, said “yes,” she believes the world can feed that many people.  The bigger question, though, is how to do it.

"I do believe we can do it, but I believe we’ll have to work across private concerns, and across universities and across governments around the world,” Ms. Boor said in response to the question, which was posed by the panel’s moderator, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

While acknowledging it was “less my world,” Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, said the free market “can absolutely” meet the needs.

Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture

“What we have to do in our drive toward feeding all these people is we don’t just put blinders on and say ‘big production ag is the only way to go,’ because I think there are independent consequences that come with that,” Ms. Hess said. “The free market is a really powerful thing, and I believe that the free market set to act can absolutely meet all of these needs. But I’ve seen what the free market has done in the food system, where whole swaths of our population are left behind because you can’t make enough money selling the food, so you sell the bad food and then we all pay the price in the end through the health care system.”

Ilene Gordon, Ingredion
Ilene Gordon, c.e.o. of Ingredion

Mr. Vilsack asked Ilene Gordon, chief executive officer of Ingredion, Inc., how her company is going to be able to supply all the ingredients to the food companies to feed the 9.7 billion people. She cited Brazil as an example of how Ingredion already is addressing the need, noting the company works with farmers in Brazil to be more efficient. The bigger issue, she said, is the healthy aspect.

“I think it’s very important that we help farmers create a raw material for the ingredients these people are dependent on,” Ms. Gordon said.

Pam Johnson, farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association

Pam Johnson, farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, responded to Mr. Vilsack’s question of whether the world will be able to feed all of those in need with a “qualified yes.”

“Things don’t happen; you have to create the future you want to see,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that she’s excited about the things to come that will make the world better.
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