The scientific community must make a 10-year, $100 billion investment in food and energy security by funding plant research, said Tom Brutnell, Ph.D., of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., and Wolf Frommer, Ph.D., of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Stanford, Calif., in an opinion piece, Food for Thought, that appeared in the June issue of The Scientist.
In their opinion piece, Brutnell and Frommer espouse that if we are to be successful in addressing critical challenges facing a rapidly growing global population we must make an investment that is on par with President John F. Kennedy's promise to put man on the moon -- a project that took a decade and cost 24 billion, ($150 billion in today's dollars).
In 2012 the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that nearly one billion people lack sufficient food to meet suggested daily caloric intake goals. Furthermore, the FAO estimates that food production will have to rise by 70 percent by 2050 as the world population continues to expand.
Given the importance of the food and energy supply to economic, social and political stability, the rational for strong investments in agricultural science are clear. "With food supply failing to keep up with the booming population, we need to find innovative ways to boost production. The next generation of innovations in agriculture can only be achieved by using the best science and tools available, be it conventional breeding, advanced breeding, or biotechnology," say Brutnell and Frommer. "Yet, plant science research has been underfunded for decades and dwarfs in comparison to medical research."
Brutnell and Frommer specifically advocate for a substantial increase in scientific research to boost crop yield and fight plant pathogens as well as for research targeted at developing plants that require less water and fertilizer, and can serve as sustainable sources for biofuels, reducing our dependence on petroleum, a rapidly depleting resource.
"In an overpopulated food-limited world, we will inevitably witness more social unrest and potentially food and climate wars. The U.S. must seize the opportunity now to build on its tremendous strength in agriculture and reverse our current path of reduced spending and investment. If we doing nothing, we may return to our pre-1776 role as colonists who simply provide food to more strategically minded nations," said Brutnell and Frommer.