Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: food security

World Food Center at UC Davis will tackle global issues

When you think casually of “food,” you may think of your next meal or your favorite food. “World food” may broaden your thinking to include international cuisines, global hunger, or a growing population. But the academic fields related to food are numerous. Food is one of life’s basic necessities, and along with its associated issues it is essential to the health and well-being of everyone, whatever their locale, education, or income level.

The new World Food Center at UC Davis will take on a broad purview related to food, including sustainable agricultural and environmental practices, food security and safety, hunger, poverty reduction through improved incomes, health and nutrition, population growth, new foods, genomics, food distribution systems, food waste, intellectual property distribution related to food, economic development and new technologies and policies.

With rapid global population growth occurring on smaller amounts of arable land, coupled with the expected impacts of climate change on food production, understanding the sustainability of food into the future is critical.

The new center’s website notes, “The World Food Center at UC Davis takes a ‘big picture’ approach to sustainably solving humanity’s most pressing problems in food and health. By bringing together world-class scientists with innovators, philanthropists and industry and public leaders, the center will generate the kind of visionary knowledge and practical policy solutions that will feed and nurture people for decades to come.”

In establishing the World Food Center, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said, “We did this to fully capitalize on our depth and expertise as the world’s leading university for education, research and scholarship on all aspects of food, but especially the nexus between food and health.”

UC Davis is the top-ranked agricultural university in the world, and California is the major producer of vegetables and fruit in the nation. Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, says of the World Food Center’s location at UC Davis, “There’s no place else that has the right mix of educational programs, research facilities, and the engagement with the state.”

The major academic disciplines surrounding food are found at UC Davis — agriculture, the environment, medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, social and cultural sciences, and management. More than 30 centers and institutes at UC Davis will be pulled together through the World Food Center. The combination of scholarship, leadership, and partnerships at UC Davis has already established the campus as a center for food-related science and outreach. This new center will reinforce that strength and broaden the university’s ability to tackle tough global issues related to food.

Although the founding director of the center has yet to be named, Josette Lewis, Ph.D., was recently appointed as the associate director of the World Food Center. Her background on international research and development for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and director of its Office of Agriculture, honed her skills to take on the World Food Center. It was at US AID that she worked on a major global hunger and food security initiative, establishing her expertise on issues related to global agricultural development and food security.

As the new World Food Center becomes fully developed, it will be well-positioned on campus to continue to solve the major global issues related to food that are a hallmark of UC Davis.

Additional information:

Hot days, cool rooms, tasty vegetables

I’ll admit that one of my favorite things to do on a hot day is to walk into an air-conditioned room. That burst of cool air in those first moments can be so refreshing.

It turns out I’m not alone — fruits and vegetables like to be cool on hot days too.

Shade provides some simple cooling at a fruit and vegetable market in Tanzania. (Horticulture CRSP photo by Kent Bradford)
“Temperature management, or cold chain, is the single most important factor in maintaining postharvest quality in fruits and vegetables,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Controlling temperature helps regulate the aging process of a fruit, along with its water loss and microorganism growth. Storing fruits and vegetables at their lowest safe temperatures means they taste better and last longer.

To help us know the best ways to store fresh produce at home, the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center offers a free PDF poster Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste, which includes tips for different fruits and vegetables, from avocado to watermelon.

Knowing the right temperature is only part of the battle for farmers, who are responsible for the first links in the cold chain. Getting produce out of the sun and cool for storage can be a big challenge — and an expensive one.

But a farmer in New York, Ron Khosla, answered this challenge with a tool that can help make cooling produce less expensive for small-scale farmers. He created the CoolBot, a micro-controller that turns a well-insulated room with a regular air conditioner into a commercial cool room for storing fruits and vegetables.

Just as small-scale American farmers struggle with affordable cooling, so do smallholder farmers elsewhere in the world. Researchers with the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP) decided to test the CoolBot device, first at the UC Davis Student Farm and then with farmers in India, Honduras and Uganda.

Neeru Dubey, of Amity University, shows a CoolBot installed in India during a Horticulture CRSP project.
“The CoolBot creates, in my mind, the perfect compromise between effective cooling and reasonable cost,” said Mitcham, postharvest specialist and director of Horticulture CRSP.

Indeed, the CoolBot-equipped rooms worked, and the program is building more in Bangladesh right now. But there is a catch: Farmers must have access to reliable grid electricity for a cool room like this to work. To address this problem, the CoolBot in Uganda was powered with solar photovoltaic cells, but that led to another set of challenges — expensive equipment and fear of theft.

So how do you effectively cool vegetables, hot from a field, without grid electricity? A solution that is low-cost, effective and off-grid has not been found yet. In an effort to uncover such a solution, Horticulture CRSP will soon be launching a technology design competition that asks that very question. Can you answer this challenge?

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7:43 AM

Why growing fruits and vegetables matters

From broccoli to watermelon, California farmers grow more than 400 agricultural commodities. In 2011, California was the primary producer of almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwi, olives, cling peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates and walnuts— accounting for nearly 100 percent of each of these crops grown in the United States.

When Americans think of “agriculture,” California may not be the first state to come to mind. But the Golden State — just this one state — produced nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. in 2011 (source).

In this land of abundance, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is asking researchers and the general public to discuss, “How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?” at the Global Food Systems Forum, April 9. National and international panelists will share insights along the local-global continuum of “California Roots, Global Reach.”

What can Californians add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said? What are we uniquely positioned to address or to share? May I suggest: fruits and vegetables.

Of course, I’m not the first one to suggest this.

According to the Global Horticulture Assessment*, published by UC Davis with input from stakeholders around the world:

“Horticultural crops play a valuable role in food systems by diversifying diets and fostering increased dietary consumption of micronutrients and other plant products known to benefit human health (fiber, antioxidants, etc.).

"Changes in production systems over the past 40 years favor an increase in cereal-based diets. The emphasis on staples has resulted in reduced dietary diversity and the displacement of traditional crops that were important sources of micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A, B-12 and zinc.”

A lack of dietary diversity can signify a serious issue in developing countries where daily eating patterns are centered on starchy staple foods — with very few fruits, vegetables or animal-based products. Reduced dietary diversity can point to micronutrient deficiencies, which could be addressed through fruit and vegetable consumption.

Growing fruits and vegetables — to be eaten and sold — has the potential to improve diets while also boosting incomes. 

What do you think? Why do fruits and vegetables matter? What can Californians contribute to the questions of global food security? Join the conversation now by following #Food2025 on Twitter.

*The "Global Horticulture Assessment" called for the creation of the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program, and serves as a guiding document for the program. With funding from USAID, Horticulture CRSP is led by UC Davis and builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries.

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM

How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?

Will farmers markets become the new Ralphs?
Some of us spent our weekend in the garden or at the farmers market, obsessing over our fresh produce that will get us through the week. Some of us went to bed last night dreaming about a Frostie from Wendy’s and fries from McDonald’s. Still, others of us spent the weekend trying to make ends meet and scraping together barely enough food to feed our families. Bottom line – food is something we all have in common. It’s a universal language. Whether we pride ourselves on eating local and organic, constantly find ourselves in the fast food lines, or stress about how to feed our families each day, food joins us all together.

All 6, almost 7, billion of us.

But what happens when there are 8 billion of us? Will more and more of us spend our weekends trying to scrape together enough food? Will more and more of us start our own gardens and obsess over our fresh produce? Will farmers markets become the new Ralphs? Will we have enough water to feed ourselves? Will we have enough land? How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?

“We’re going to have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have the last 10,000. Some people say we’ll just add more land or more water. But we’re not going to (be able to) do much of either,” says William Lesher, former USDA chief economist.

This is a global issue. But as Californian's and residents of the world’s top agricultural producer, what is our role in meeting these challenges? On April 9, 2013, producers, geo-politicists, ethicists, economists, humanists and many others from around the world will come together to discuss the challenges surrounding our global food systems at the UCANR Statewide Conference: Global Food Systems Forum.

The Global Food Systems Forum will feature Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute, as the keynote speakers. The program will include a Global Panel, discussing key issues such as resource limitations, ethnical quandaries, climate change, responsibilities, etc. A California Panel will also take place, tackling issues such as California responsibilities, productivity, policies, markets and research.

But this conversation isn’t just about UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. It’s about all of us. We all need to take a stand and advocate for our food. If you watch what you eat, you should join the conversation. If you love what you eat, you should join the conversation. If you worry about how you will eat in the future, you should join the conversation.

The public is invited to participate in this one-day event via a live online webcast. You can also join the ongoing conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #Food2025. Make your voice heard. Stand up for your food, and help shape our future global food systems.

Learn more about the Global Food Systems Forum and register to watch the live webcast at food2025.ucanr.edu

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 7:07 AM

More African vegetables on more plates

What will be the new food frontier? An article in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Next Stop for Food Fanatics: Africa” predicts adventurous American palates may soon be craving sub-Saharan cuisines.

Nakati greens were served with lunch at a farmer field day in Uganda. (HortCRSP photo by Elana Peach-Fine)
Besides making me hungry, reading this article made me think of some of the African vegetables that I’ve recently started to learn about. Yes, just as there are "Asian vegetables," there is also a wide category of "African leafy vegetables."

Have you heard of these?

  • Nakati (Solanum macrocarpon, S. aethiopicum) Also called African eggplant, some types of nakati are eaten for their leafy greens, while others are eaten for their fruit (which can look like a tomato or eggplant).
  • Cowpea leaves (Vigna unguiculata) This plant produces black-eyed peas, but the greens of the plant can also be eaten as a vegetable.
  • Bbuga (Amaranthus Gracecizans) You might know this plant by its common American name: pigweed.
  • Doodo (Amaranthus Dubius) Like bbuga, this type of amaranth is eaten for its leaves in many parts of Africa. In North and South America, varieties of amaranth are usually used as a grain.
  • Jjobyo (Gynandropsis Gynandra, Cleome gynandra) Also called spider plant.

Many of these indigenous vegetables are rich in micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A and vitamin B. When it comes to alleviating malnutrition in developing countries of eastern Africa, indigenous vegetables offer workable solutions because they are not only nutritious, but also familiar to the region’s eaters and farmers.

Many varieties of amaranth are grown in Kenya. (HortCRSP photo by Stephen Weller)
But research into these vegetables has often not been a priority, even among international development professionals. Markets for these vegetables are also largely undeveloped because they are widely considered subsistence crops, often grown in small garden plots by women for their own families. But growing these crops commercially can mean increased income for smallholder farmers and improved nutrition for consumers who crave traditional foods.

Recently U.S. researchers have been working with indigenous crops like these in east African countries — with funding and support from the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP), led by Beth Mitcham at UC Davis with funding from USAID. In Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, Stephen Weller of Purdue University is leading a Horticulture CRSP research project on production practices, seed resources, postharvest handling, marketing and nutrition of varieties of amaranth, spider plant and African nightshade.

In Uganda, Kate Scow of UC Davis is partnering with local groups to try out a new model of extension while increasing production of indigenous greens, such as nakati, bbuga and jjobyo.

Take a look at this short video for a little more background:

Just as bok choy, an Asian vegetable, has become familiar to many American households, perhaps one day you’ll find nakati or another African leafy vegetable on your plate.

In the meantime, researchers with Horticulture CRSP are working to get more African leafy vegetables into the research agendas, fields, markets and plates of our counterparts in eastern Africa.


Read more abut Horticulture CRSP and its projects around the world at http://hortcrsp.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 8:41 AM

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