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A 21st Century Green Revolution
An International Science Agenda for The United States and The World
Senator Lugar and The Lugar Center (TLC) have a long history in working on global food security policy and related science issues. Going forward, our work focuses on building support and momentum for US leadership of a 21st Century Green Revolution with a defined list of priorities reflecting the current and anticipated state of global agriculture. To date, prioritizing science and scientific collaboration has been a weak component of existing global food security programs. With the start of a new administration and new Congress, and the commitment to take up a number of key legislative policy vehicles, we believe there are both challenges and opportunities that necessitate renewed advocacy of a global science agenda that benefits all farmers and consumers. We look forward to building a coalition of like-minded organizations committed to ending global hunger through science.
The Science Challenge
The first Green Revolution (1950-1970), led by the work of Norm Borlaug is credited with saving millions of lives with its concentration on raising crop productivity through scientific advances around improved inputs and farming techniques. The present-day global food and agriculture system will continue to be under enormous pressures that can only be ameliorated by greater investments in science. To feed a world population of nearly 10 billion by 2050 will require not just greater productivity, but smarter productivity that recognizes the environmental challenges of climate change, stresses on water and soil resources, the demands of a more urbanized global population and changing preferences for more protein-rich diets.
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 with these types of investments. No other investments in any other topic area to date have been able to demonstrate these rates of return. A 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on 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, public funding of agriculture sciences has stalled, and in some instances, declined. 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. African universities are poorly resourced in both human and institutional capacity. According to Agriculture Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI), about half of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have had annual negative growth rates in the levels of public R&D devoted to agriculture. A 2014 ASTI report cited an inability to replace researchers, many US-trained, who will soon retire, as well as low salaries and donor dependency, as factors contributing to the decline in university and research capacity. Often, students come to the United States for advanced degrees in agriculture but then return to schools that are unable to support their research or train their own graduate students.
There are many benefits to having strong agriculture universities in developing countries. They set the stage for greater investments in local and orphan crops. The Ethiopian staple crop Tef, for example, may not be of much interest to researchers in the American Midwest, but its value in East Africa is well understood. Local botanical resources are important sources of food and pharmaceutical products that not only hold the potential of providing global benefits but also would receive greater attention from local scientists. University partnerships provide frameworks and working relationships to respond to plant and animal disease outbreaks that could threaten staple crops around the world. These benefits will not be realized without proper investments and stronger collaborations.
A 21st Century Green Revolution should focus on the following components:
Widen productivity gains of not just global staple crops, but of indigenous and orphan crops upon which millions rely for basic nutrition and income.
Build resilience to climate change for farmers of all sizes. Looming over all our hopes for eliminating hunger is the threat of climate change because it has the potential to alter the basic assumptions upon which both global and regional agriculture function.
Increase access to science, extension 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.
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.
Strengthen foreign universities working on agriculture. Increase the human and institutional capacity of universities in food insecure regions so they can partner globally in sharing knowledge with a focus on science related to local crops, the veterinary sciences and health sciences and the local conditions that affect them.
A 21st Century Green Revolution will have the greatest impact if it is characterized by inclusivity for all farmers, but with a special focus on smallholders and women who often get left behind. It should remain unbiased with regard to types of farming approaches. The often rancorous debate between genetic engineering and what some call non-GMO is unproductive and may soon be outdated as new gene editing processes come online.
Why TLC is Well Positioned on Science
The TLC approach to food security has always advocated for the elevation of science. As the former Chairman of both the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Lugar holds political and policy credibility in calling for greater and more focused investments in international agricultural science agenda. TLC resources (GE FAQs and Resources for Researchers) have focused on science and climate change issues, biodiversity, genetic engineering, and orphan crops. Lugar is one of the few Republicans to take a public stand on the need to address climate change particularly as it applies to agriculture.
In 2009, Lugar authored the Global Food Security Act and commissioned a related staff study on the causes and consequences of food insecurity. That work, among others, informed the creation of President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative. At the 2014 Feed the Future Global Forum, Senator Lugar called for Congress to authorize global food security legislation, which was subsequently passed and signed into law in 2016. The law represents a commitment between the legislative and executive branches of the US government for US leadership in global food security policy.
Opportunities of a Science Agenda
A Green Revolution for the 21st century will have enormous benefits for American agriculture, universities and the US economy. Even with President Trump’s advocacy of an America First approach, the new administration has not been more receptive to calls for a science agenda. Science research benefits American farmers in ways that increase productivity, conserve resources, and protect the environment. Increases in environmentally friendly agricultural productivity and growing economies in the developing world enable US farmers and agricultural product companies to export more. And collaboration among scientists prevents the outbreak and spread of plant and animal disease that can decimate crops, livestock and undermine whole economies. It will help us achieve a more peaceful and prosperous world in which no one goes to bed hungry.
About The Lugar Center. The Lugar Center mission is to identify solutions to global problems that will define the 21st century. The Center seeks to educate and motivate the public, policymakers, and future leaders on critical issues such as global food security, controlling weapons of mass destruction, foreign aid effectiveness, and bipartisan governance.
The Center works to keep global food security at the forefront of public policy debates and to educate government leaders, the foreign policy community, and the public on the need for U.S. leadership. TLC seeks to foster a better understanding of the overall food security and global agriculture challenge and to encourage a more productive and bipartisan debate on its related issues. TLC puts special emphasis on the role of science and evidence-based approaches that will alleviate global poverty and hunger and counter skepticism around the issues of science-driven solutions and climate change. It is informed by a commitment to foreign assistance effectiveness principles that can help to overcome political and budgetary resistance to foreign assistance that supports agricultural development and global food security.
Full brief with case studies:
Public Agriculture Research: The United States Can’t Catch Up by Slowing Down
U.S. Public Agricultural Research and Development Funding: A Strong History, but a Growing Gap
The United States was long the leading innovator in agriculture. This was no accident. It was the result of a deliberate government policy to invest substantial amounts of money in agricultural research. In 1940, just before the outbreak of World War II, the United States spent 40 percent of its federal R&D budget on agricultural sciences (Fuglie 1996). That investment paid off in the post-war boom in agricultural production that enabled the country to feed its surging population as well as supply many war-devastated countries overseas.
This public investment also laid the foundation for the first Green Revolution in the late 1960s. It showed conclusively that along with best practices, advances in technology, fueled by publicly funded research, could make dramatic improvements in agricultural productivity. The high-yielding varieties of wheats and rices developed by Norman Borlaug, a world-renowned agronomist, and others are credited with saving a billion people from starvation, and Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for this work.
Today, the research funding picture is far different. U.S. investment in agricultural research is only two percent of the federal total, and public investment in agricultural R&D has been falling for nearly two decades. Congressional funding for the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, launched a decade ago to address the problem, has never reached authorized levels, leaving unfunded three-quarters of worthy projects (Grumbly 2019). At the same time, other major food producing countries are stepping up their game and investing more and more public funds in agriculture research (Pardey 2016). More than a decade ago China passed the U.S. in public agricultural research spending in absolute dollars and now spends more than twice as much. India and Brazil have been raising their spending levels in recent years while U.S. spending has gone down (Nelson 2019).
This loss of American leadership could hardly come at a worse time. Experts say that with the world population headed toward 9.8 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations,(United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2017) and with global incomes steadily rising, the world’s farmers will have to produce twice as much food as today on the same amount of land, and probably with less water. Climate change will make growing conditions more challenging. Globalization is hastening the spread of pests like the fall armyworm and diseases (The Lugar Center. 2019) including African swine fever across continents. American consumers are demanding food that is healthier and raised more sustainably; with the rise of social media, food-borne disease outbreaks can more quickly wreak market havoc. People in many poor regions will still need more biofortified foods to avoid chronic malnutrition and childhood stunting. In addition to costing lives, COVID-19 is straining agriculture systems and trade and has exposed weaknesses in food supply chains.
These challenges can only be met, and the U.S. regain its position as a leader in agricultural innovation, with a robust program of publicly funded research and development in the agricultural sciences.
Today’s Funding Gap
Over the decades, the trajectory of American public investment in agriculture research has gone from one of slowing growth to an actual decline in real spending in recent years (Pardey 2017) . This happened at the same time the rest of the world was stepping up its commitment to R&D, so that by around 2010, the U.S. share of global public spending on agriculture research had fallen by nearly half, to just 11 percent, compared to 20 percent in 1960, according to figures in an important Farm Journal Foundation paper by Philip G. Pardey and Jason M. Beddow at the University of Minnesota’s International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (InSTePP) Center (Pardey 2017).
The other Big Three food producers---Brazil, China and India—collectively passed the United States in annual investment in agricultural R&D at the turn of the 21st century, and by the beginning of the 2010s were together spending more than twice as much (Nelson. 2019).
There has also been a shift in the balance between public and private, or commercial, spending on agriculture research. In the 1950s, public agencies outspent private companies by roughly a third. By the beginning of this decade, that ratio flipped strongly in the other direction: the private sector accounted for the lion’s share of food and agriculture research spending, investing 73% more than the public sector. This reflects not only a rapid growth in private spending that initially outpaced the growth rate of public spending, but also a real-dollar decline in public investment beginning in the last decade (Pardey 2017).
Is a Shift from Public to Private Funding OK?
But much of this private research has gone into only a couple of specific, focused areas including genetic modification (GM) and gene editing (CRISPR) technologies applied to a handful of major crops and animals. This funding is typically aimed at short-term, commercial needs. Profit-oriented companies don’t invest significantly in basic research, which usually has no immediate payoff but reliably leads to major, if sometimes unexpected, breakthroughs down the road. There is little incentive for them to invest in long-term applied research problems that may take many years to solve. In addition, so-called “orphan crops,” such as yams, millet, and cassava, eaten and grown locally by smallholder farmers in low income, developing countries, are vital for millions of people around the world. Yet they attract little interest from the major biotech companies.
In other words, it has not been a case that private dollars are simply substituting for public dollars. Instead, as the Farm Journal Foundation paper notes, “the private sector tends to conduct more developmental or nearer-market research that is readily commercialized, but which often relies on breakthroughs achieved by way of the upstream research.”(Pardey 2017). It is that upstream research, basic research aimed at making fundamental scientific breakthroughs, which is suffering because of insufficient public investment (Pardey 2017). Globally, the strong U.S. position in private research funding is also eroding. In 1980, the U.S. accounted for a third of all private sector ag R&D spending. By the beginning of this decade, that share had slipped by nearly a quarter (Pardey 2017).
Bringing Public and Private Funding Together for Impact
One of the bright spots in the research funding picture is where private funding and tax-payer dollars have come together in the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) (Foundation for Food and Agriculuture (FFAR)). Congress took a bold stand by creating FFAR in the 2014 Farm Bill and providing it with $200 million in funding, to be matched dollar for dollar by private investment. This led to an increase of nearly $400 million in agriculture R&D during the prior farm bill, and the program was continued in 2018 with the addition of $185 million in public funds.
FFAR directly funds projects to address challenges in crop and animal health and productivity, as well as important environmental programs to protect soil and water resources. It also works in partnership with organizations in consortia to develop solutions through multiple areas of research. One such consortium is “Crops of the Future” which is working to “accelerate global efforts to develop crops needed to meet food system challenges 20-50 years from now.”(Foundation for Food and Agriculuture (FFAR)).
What We Eat Determines Our Health: We Need to Know More
Research into food nutrition, which is becoming an increasing focus of policymakers, also depends heavily on public funding. It comes in two forms. One is primarily aimed at poor countries where people may rely mainly on one or two staple crops for their calories but suffer from malnutrition and related diseases because they don’t get enough of the right vitamins and minerals. Research by government agriculture departments and universities has focused on such nutrients as iron, zinc, selenium and vitamin A. Today, HarvestPlus is working with 8.5 million small-holder farmers in 30 countries to deliver over 240 biofortified crop varieties including iron beans, zinc rice and wheat, and Vitamin A cassava, maize and plantain (HarvestPlus 2019).
In the U.S., consumers have had access to fortified food for nearly 100 years since iodine was added to salt in the 1920s to prevent goiter. Today U.S. supermarkets carry a number of fortified products, such as bread, milk and orange juice. But these nutrients are added during processing, which is not practical for most populations in developing countries.
The other form of nutrition research concerns populations who don’t suffer from food insecurity but nonetheless have severe health problems because of poor food choices. Although primarily a developed country problem, increasingly this challenge is also beginning to exist among people in the developing world. In its recent report, Challenge of Change, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) addresses seven major challenges to addressing food security by 2050, with Challenge 6 being “Address the dual burdens of undernutrition and obesity to ensure full human potential.”(Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) 2017)
In the U.S. alone, diet-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Obesity is estimated to cost $1.4 trillion per year in the U.S. and $2.0 trillion globally (Waters 2016). Health and cosmetic concerns have fueled a $72 billion weight-loss industry in the U.S., (Business Wire 2019) but commercial funding for scientific research on nutrition is limited. Publicly funded nutrition research in this context is scattered throughout the government in what critics say is a fragmented way that has come under scrutiny by Congress and the Government Accountability Office. It is coordinated by the Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research, which has 18 members, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agricultural Research Service to the Pentagon and the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the basic research is carried out by several different institutes at NIH, which earlier this year published its first-ever NIH-wide 10-year strategic plan for nutrition research, (National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2020). With the many challenges of both over and undernutrition taxing both the health of people and the budgets of governments, it is positive that this deep and more strategic focus on nutrition research has now begun. A commitment to the resources that will be required to implement the plan over the next decade will be necessary in order to achieve positive results.
U.S. Public Funding with and for International Partners Provides Positive Results
Federal spending on international agricultural research is also far down from its heyday during the Green Revolution. Besides its obvious humanitarian benefits, such research also has important implications for U.S. international relations and national security and can benefit U.S. trade and American farmers directly. As Senator Richard Lugar said during the 2009 global food crisis, “The consequences of hunger are profound. Quality of life for affected families deteriorates as access to food decreases, affecting their productivity, and ultimately the economic growth of nations. Hungry children are unable to learn, and hungry adults are not productive. Hungry people are desperate people, and their hunger can breed instability…It is both a moral and national security imperative for the United States and other wealthy nations to address the root causes of hunger.” (Lugar 2009).
From a slow start in the 1950s, U.S. spending on international agriculture research and its related extension and education activities accelerated in the 1960s as global food shortages loomed. (These figures are separate from the direct food aid the U.S. has provided through Food for Peace and other programs.) It skyrocketed in the 1970s after the oil shocks helped drive up food prices around the world. These investments peaked around 1985, at over $300 million a year (in 2009 dollars), but then fell over the next 20 years nearly as fast as they had risen (Pardey 2017). There was a bit of a revival in spending after food shortages and price hikes in 2007-08 led to food riots in as many as 19 countries (Lugar 2009). But that growth also eventually stalled out.
As Sen. Lugar’s comment suggests, severe food insecurity overseas can impoverish nations, making them poor trading partners for American products, including American farm products. In addition, supporting foreign agriculture research can help form a first line of defense against farm diseases and pests that originate overseas but may eventually reach our shores. For instance, in the late 1990s, a virulent new strain of wheat rust emerged in Africa. Known as Ug99, the Food and Agricultural Organization warned that the windborne disease “could damage all commercial wheat globally.” (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2009). To combat the threat, Cornell University joined with several international agricultural research institutes which are a part of the CGIAR system (CGIAR. 2020) and the FAO to establish in 2008 the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, an international consortium of more than 1,000 scientists. Funded in part by USDA and USAID, the BGRI fosters international cooperation to keep wheat rusts from spreading to major wheat producing countries—including the United States—and to “enhance world productivity to withstand global threats to wheat security.”(Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2020). The Ug99 example is just one among countless that demonstrate the impact of U.S. investment in CGIAR centers across the globe. Their work, conducted across 15 centers, includes research to improve crop yields, support plant resistance to pests and diseases, and improve plant tolerance to drought conditions.
In 2019 the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development released a report highlighting the benefits to the United States of agricultural and food security investments in developing countries. (Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) 2019) These investments come in the form of partnerships between U.S. and international educational institutions with public funds to address threats of transmission of plant and animal diseases, as well as technology and seed improvements that strengthen growers in multiple countries. The benefits include increased exports and jobs and technology spillovers, as well as U.S. and global security.
A Commitment to Publicly Funded Agriculture Research Continues to be Vital for the United States and its Current and Future Global Trading Partners
The multi-trillion-dollar spending bills Congress passed in response to the pandemic crisis make it impossible to predict near-term budgets for agricultural research. But the current fiscal year’s appropriations under which agriculture research and development is taking place demonstrates that policymakers still accord it a low priority. As policymakers assess the future needs of the U.S. in a post COVID-19 environment it will be vital to reverse the decades-long decline and instead increase public investments in agriculture research and development. The economic consequences of the pandemic are a stark reminder that pennies invested now in research on pests, diseases, climate-adapted crops, nutrition, and other key contributors to food security can save many dollars and prevent crises in the future. The countless demands on federal funds have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, but continued cuts in agricultural research will do little to balance the budget. Rather, an increase in R&D funding is an investment in a stronger American farm economy, a healthier population, a decrease in global hunger and poverty, a more stable and prosperous world, and a more secure America.
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The United States has long been a world leader in agriculture through the hard work of its farmers, the leadership of its scientists and extension agents, and the wisdom of its policy makers to invest in publicly funded research and development.
These investments have increased productivity, made us a major food exporter, and spurred the Green Revolution that helped many other countries, especially in Asia and Latin America, develop their agriculture sectors, making them even stronger trading partners and allies. In recent decades, however, our publicly funded research has declined markedly: USDA’s R&D funding has fallen to just 1.6% of the agency’s budget in 2016, roughly half 1970’s level and the lowest point on record. China’s public R&D budget now exceeds that of the United States, and combined, China, India and Brazil spend $2.35 for every $1.00 the United States spends. This decline in US public investment comes as farmers around the world will be challenged to feed a growing population and to do so in ways that are sensitive to the relationship between agriculture and the environment.