My own interest in food security began on a 604-acre farm in Indiana, which my father, Marvin Lugar, bought in the 1930s.  I still manage the farm, which today sits within the city limits of Indianapolis. Our planting began in May, and when all is done, we will have roughly 200 acres of corn and 200 acres of soybeans in the ground, to go with our acreage planted in Black walnut trees.  Our chances of a bumper crop year-to-year are excellent, given the astounding array of technologies that our farm and most of American agriculture uses to maximize yield and protect the environment.  Our farm is benefitting from genetically engineered seed, advancements in soil analysis, GPS mapping of the land, sophisticated weather forecasting, and numerous other technologies. In 2014, we set a record for corn yield at 192 bushels per acre.  This is roughly a fourfold increase from the yields we experienced on the same land when I was a boy.  At that time, my dad was pleased when we achieved even 50 bushels an acre. 

I relate this personal experience to underscore that agricultural science is capable of delivering miraculous results. Humanity possesses the technology necessary to grow, store, distribute, and market a safe and nutritious supply of food. Having witnessed such an amazing transformation in the span of my lifetime, I have always been optimistic about the world’s ability to meet future food demand.

While not all areas of the world benefited equally from the first Green Revolution, it formed the basis for international scientific collaboration around a common agenda with benefits that lasted decades. Investments in agricultural research and development have been shown to pack a powerful punch for development. Studies have demonstrated a rate of return of nearly 10 percent. A 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee study of 10 countries with varying levels of food insecurity found that those having a reasonably-resourced agriculture university have greater food security and less hunger.

In recent decades, US public funding of agriculture sciences has stalled. Despite recent US leadership on global agriculture that has motivated commitments from other international donors, public investments in international agricultural science and technology have lagged far behind. Even more distressing is the lack of commitment to international university collaborations that had been a hallmark of US programs in past decades. 

Because the needs of the 21st century and the global agricultural system have changed, we need a Green Revolution that adapts in equal measure. A 21st Century Green Revolution should encompass a number of important components and should seek as its basic tenet inclusivity for farmers of all sizes and types and an openness to the benefits of a variety of technologies. The US Department of Agriculture is well positioned to lead this effort.

  • First, it should seek to raise productivity not just of staple crops, but of indigenous and orphan crops upon which millions rely for basic nutrition and income.
  • Second, it should build resilience to climate change for farmers of all sizes. The effects of climate change are hitting farmers around the world, but not all have the means to meet the challenge.
  • Third, it should increase access to science, extensions services, and technologies so that farmers can make informed choices for what best suits their purposes, with a focus on smallholders, the majority of whom are women.
  • Fourth, it should advance health and nutrition of crops, animals, and people. Science has already shown us the benefits of bio-fortified foods. It can also do the same for plant pests and disease, animal health, and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues.

A fifth component is absolutely necessary and should be under the leadership of the US Agency for International Development in collaboration with USDA.  We must strengthen foreign universities working on agriculture and increase the human and institutional capacity of universities in food insecure regions. Local scientists and teachers need to be able to respond to their own local conditions, train their own scientists, and share their knowledge globally. A consortium of six universities led by Ohio State (iAGRI) currently working in Tanzania represents a collaborative model that is working to build this local and institutional capacity.

With a strong science agenda that is inclusive, collaborative, and responsive to current challenges, we should be able to look to the future with great hopefulness that we can indeed dramatically reduce the number of people who are hungry and living in poverty across the globe. The results would lift people and economies for the greater good of all.