Investing in Long-Lasting Change

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By Evelyn Drawec

During her keynote at the 15th annual State of the World 2011 symposium, Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, said she hoped everyone at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would, “read this report cover to cover and keep a copy of it on their desk.” Merrigan commended the practicality of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, and how this project, along with others, is significant and vital to achieving food security and fighting global hunger.

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, speaks at the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2011. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Merrigan focused her speech on the necessity of investment in sustainable agriculture projects both worldwide and in the United States, and the ways in which the Obama administration is working towards improving agriculture productivity.  Investments promoting long-lasting change are crucial, noted Merrigan, especially during lean economic times. She went on to discuss how President Obama is currently calling for a shift in food supply that would lead to economic growth by improving productivity.

The Feed the Future initiative launched by President Obama in 2009, she stated, is working to globally enhance nutrition and feed the rural poor through strategic investments to improve food security. Coinciding with Nourishing the Planet, Deputy Secretary Merrigan emphasized the role of investments in Feed the Future on improving the health of children and helping farmers to grow more. She commended this program for “prompting a comprehensive approach to food productivity.”

In her speech, Deputy Secretary Merrigan highlighted Nourishing the Planet’s 25 nation journey in Sub-Sahara Africa as insightful and visionary towards creating a sustainable future. Last summer she spoke with 36 successful African business women who were mostly managers of their own farm systems. Through this meeting she had the opportunity to hear about some of the challenges local African farmers face. Deputy Secretary Merrigan found parallels with their experiences to the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative of the USDA, a program she manages emphasizing the importance between farmers and consumers and local food systems in the United States.

Additionally, the USDA is currently taking practical steps towards sustainable agricultural systems designed to improve nutrition. Merrigan pointed out that as food commodity prices have increased, chronic hunger and malnutrition are still serious problems in developing countries arising from limited agricultural productivity. In response, the USDA is currently focusing its resources to improve nutrition. Some of the current projects at USDA aimed at this goal include creating more nutritious crop strains, animals with better feed that improve efficiency, and emerging technologies that can better handle and respond to drought and toxicity.

Merrigan concluded by stressing the important role of farmers in the energy revolution and how in the coming months the USDA will be working to show farmers how to participate in carbon markets. In her opinion, it is through the power of science, on the ground experience, and conservation practices that improve global food security—such as those highlighted in State of the World 2011—that we will ultimately be successful in alleviating global hunger and poverty.

The event was live streamed online on Wednesday, January 19, 2011. Stay tuned for video in the coming days.

Evelyn Drawec is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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