The United States must double investment in agricultural and food research over the next 10 years and recalibrate investment priorities in order to meet projected global food demand, says a new report by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The report, Leveraging Innovation to Feed the Future, says that innovation will be essential to meeting future food needs driven by urbanization and population growth, especially in the face of rising temperatures, resource scarcity and the increasing volatility of climate events. The report calls for increased U.S. investments in agricultural research, puts forward essential innovation priorities and urges decision-makers to fund research with a long time horizon in mind.  The paper draws from the findings of previous Chicago Council reports that document trends in agricultural research and offer recommendations on how research can advance global food security and overcome challenges posed by climate change, undernutrition and the rising tide of chronic disease.

“Public investments in agricultural research have not kept pace with changes and increase in food demand,” said Lisa Moon, vice president for global agriculture and food at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “With our world-class university system and research institutes, our long experience partnering with scientists in other countries and our tremendous intellectual capital, the United States is uniquely positioned to generate and leverage food system innovations to match this century’s challenges.”

Specifically, the report calls for the United States to:

  • Forge a new science of agriculture to increase productivity sustainably, nutritiously and economically. Production must be increased while using fewer resources, improving nutrition and providing solid incomes to food producers.
  • Build research capacity. Support for university and research institutions in developing countries is critical to innovations that work in the local context.
  • Bolster research on climate change. Research must focus on building resilience and addressing threats to the food system from climate change.
  • Expand nutrition-sensitive agricultural research. Nutrition should be a key priority of research to combat chronic malnutrition. As noted in The Chicago Council report, Healthy Food for a Healthy World, today as many as two billion people suffer from deficiencies of essential micronutrients.
  • Reduce food waste. Innovations for reducing food waste are vital to help offset the production needed to meet increased demand.

U.S. investments in public agricultural research have declined more than 20 percent from their peak in 1994. Similarly, agricultural productivity growth is also slowing from 2 percent in the decades before 1990 to 1 percent in the years that followed. Research breakthroughs and wider dissemination of innovations will be essential to increasing net food availability by a needed 60 percent by 2050 while taking into account sustainability and nutrition concerns.

Previous Chicago Council studies on which this report is based were authored by experts and endorsed by a wide range of thought leaders; they include: Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business; Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate; and Healthy Food for a Healthy World:  Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition.  Data and analysis on U.S. and global research investments were put forward in a Chicago Council report, Agricultural Innovation: The United States in a Changing Global Reality, authored by Philip Pardey and Jason Beddow from the University of Minnesota.