Charting a path toward food, nutritional security
By CRAIG BEYROUTY
(Editor’s note: Dean and Director of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at University of Maryland.)
(April 11, 2017) The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland is committed to ensuring a safe and secure food system through our research and educational programs.
As the global population rises to an estimated nine billion by 2050, we are faced with the reality of increasing our food production by roughly 50 percent.
The United Nations report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World from 2015 cites 793 million people as undernourished and according to the World Bank, 700 million people live under the poverty line.
The issue of food security is complex.
Much of the growth in global population over the next couple of decades is expected to occur in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
Yet, many of these countries do not have the ability to adopt new technologies or have access to the necessary resources to provide sufficient food and clean water for their citizens.
Thus, the food system in the United States will be relied upon even heavier in future years than we currently experience to satisfy the growing appetites of other nations.
Challenging our effort to increase food production in the United States are competing forces coming from an unpredictable climate, loss of prime agricultural land through urbanization and erosion, compromised water systems in rural and urban settings, and fewer of our citizens engaged in the practice of farming.
In addition to food insecurity, we are also keenly aware of the need to focus on nutritional insecurity.
The quality of the calories consumed is as important to sustaining human health as is the quantity of calories.
Chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are on the rise and are often attributed to the frequent consumption of foods of low nutritional value.
In addition, the World Health Organization reports that as of 2014 roughly two billion adults were overweight worldwide and over 600 million were obese.
The “think globally, act locally” approach can have profound implications for populations that struggle with food insecurity.
Agriculture is Maryland’s number one industry with nearly $2.3 billion in revenue, and roughly 350,000 people “employed in some aspect of agriculture.” (Maryland.gov. Maryland Manual Online of the Maryland State Archives, 2017)
Inherent in these statistics is a call to duty for us as Maryland residents to continue our important work to not just sustain our own livelihood, but to help improve the lives of others.
Our faculty and staff are laser focused on addressing the issues surrounding food and nutritional insecurity, here in the United States and throughout the world.
University of Maryland Extension staff throughout the state are working to implement initiatives in areas including urban agriculture, workforce and business development and nutrition education.
Urban and rural youth are gaining exposure to commercial farming practices and are able to showcase their products at local farmers’ markets.
Extension’s heralded “Grow It Eat It” program is committed to helping Marylanders produce their own affordable, healthy food using sustainable gardening practices.
Representing a unique partnership between theuniversity and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, our Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is helping to ensure a safe, wholesome food supply with an emphasis on national food safety programs and international food standards.
Our scientists throughout Maryland are discovering solutions to increased pest resistance of important crops and livestock, developing more efficient use of fertilizers, and innovating methods to protect our statewide soil and water resources.
As part of their educational experience, students are producing crops, helping design rain gardens and attending international summits on food policy and sustainability.
Our students are applying their knowledge of nutrition to promote healthy eating patterns for families and individuals.
Students in our College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are helping alleviate food insecurity abroad, from improving the economic well-being and family food security through programs in Afghanistan, to utilizing novel landscape architecture skills to ensure clean water, air, sanitation and shelter in Haiti.
Many of our students stretch their educational pursuits beyond the boundaries of their major to tackle these and other pressing global issues.
They are driven by a strong social consciousness to improve the lives and livelihoods of others.
While the challenges ahead of us may seem daunting, it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture. Here in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, we will continue to assemble our unique expertise in the agricultural and natural resource sciences to sustain and advance our food system.
Beyond the work internal to our college, our hope is to work collectively at the local level, to develop an integrated approach that will affect change on a global scale. We must empower each other and commit to the ideal that our work sustains the livelihoods of so many.
Together as Maryland citizens, in collaboration with important stakeholder groups and through public/private partnerships, we can ensure a path towards food and nutritional security.