- Author: Marissa Palin
By Alec Rosenberg
Several themes emerged from the UC Global Food Systems Forum: Take a bottom-up approach. Focus on solutions. Pursue low-hanging fruit. Decrease food waste. Be practical. Be innovative. Involve education. But opinions differed on how to balance small- and large-scale farming, the role of genetically modified organisms, and what should be the most important area of focus.
More than 475 people attended the food forum in Ontario, Calif., which also reached a worldwide virtual audience. A live webcast received 1,500 unique viewers from 34 countries, while a steady stream of tweets at #Food2025 made the conversation a trending topic on Twitter. With more than 1 billion people going hungry every day and 1 billion people overweight, the conversation was timely.
"We must act now to improve the food and nutrition supply of people in poor countries and communities throughout the world," said keynote speaker Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.
The daylong forum, part of ANR's statewide conference, addressed the challenges faced by food producers, suppliers and consumers in a world of growing population, strains on natural systems, climate change, shifting geopolitics and other converging forces. The event convened some of the world's leading experts — farmers, researchers, policymakers, economists, environmentalists and others — with the New Yorker's Michael Specter moderating a global panel and author and journalist Mark Arax moderating a California panel. The speakers offered thoughtful insights and solutions.
"This is fundamental to our mission as a land-grant university," said UC ANR Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz. "Our goal is to take these brilliant ideas and turn them into brilliant plans of action."
By capturing water from rainfall and reducing evaporation, farmers could boost yields, said panelist Garrison Sposito, a UC Berkeley professor of ecosystem sciences and environmental engineering. Panelist Komal Ahmad, a 2012 UC Berkeley graduate, launched Feeding Forward, a startup that uses technology to streamline food donation, decreasing hunger while reducing waste. Panelist Howard-Yana Shapiro, who called for "uncommon collaborations," has increased the sustainability of cocoa at candy maker Mars Inc., where he is chief agricultural officer along with being a senior fellow at UC Davis.
What's the best way to feed the planet? Keynote speaker Wes Jackson, founder and president of the Land Institute, called for a focus on natural systems. Organic farmer Paul Muller, co-owner of Full Belly Farm, advocated for a Jeffersonian perspective of stewardship and self-reliance.
Meanwhile, Stuart Woolf, president and CEO of Woolf Farming and Processing, whose crops include almonds, pistachios and grapes, focuses on a larger scale. He noted that his farm supplies multinational corporations.
"We all serve different markets," Woolf said. "I think there's an opportunity for all of us to do well."
Issues of quantity and access
Increasing food productivity isn't enough, some speakers said.
"If you can't afford food, it doesn't really matter how much there is," said panelist Ron Herring, a Cornell University professor of government.
"We are trying to look for the silver bullet solutions instead of focusing on poverty," said panelist Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute.
A place to start is listening to the poorest people, speakers said.
"We need a Food Corps that's the equivalent of the Peace Corps," said panelist Sol Katz, a University of Pennsylvania professor of physical anthropology and an expert in health economics.
Panelist Maarten Chrispeels, a UC San Diego distinguished professor emeritus of biology, encouraged people to spend a month in a small village and learn about life there. Panelist Rebecca Peters, a UC Berkeley student, already has gotten a head start, spending three months in Bolivia as part of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. "We need to think about the perspective of the people we're trying to serve," Peters said.
Several speakers said universities and can play a key role in educating the public and conducting research. Farmers and other panelists pointed to the contributions UC has made to advance farm productivity and sustainability. Panelist Jonathan Shrier, acting special representative for global food security with the U.S. State Department, mentioned examples that included UC research to develop flood-tolerant rice.
"This type of conference is important because it gets everybody thinking out of the box," said panelist Grant Chaffin, a Blythe farmer.
- Author: Marissa Palin
Glenda Humiston, California State Director of USDA Rural Development and panelist at the Global Food Systems Forum, said no.
"We can't feed the world with farmers' markets, and if we're going to try, then let's talk carbon footprint." Said Humiston, in last week's webcast.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, it is not always more energy-efficient for consumers to purchase locally-grown food. Often times, eating locally grown products consumes much more energy than eating imported goods.
Additionally, according to an article by the New York Times, "It is impossible for most of the world to feed itself a diverse and healthy diet through exclusively local food production — food will always have to travel; asking people to move to more fertile regions is sensible but alienating and unrealistic; consumers living in developed nations will, for better or worse, always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer."
What do you think? Can we feed the world solely on farmers' markets?
- Author: Marissa Palin
There's a big difference between the questions what is best for my family? and what kind of agriculture is best for the whole world?
According to Maarten Chrispeels, a plant physiologist and UC San Diego distinguished professor emeritus and Global Food Systems Forum panelist, it's very difficult to choose between organic and GM's. We're being bombarded with information, but how much of that is true? Do we even need to choose between the two?
Watch the video below to find out.
"If you're concerned about your health, there isn't any scientific basis to choose for or against organic, or for or against GM."
"If you're concerned about food, there is no scientific basis for choosing for or against GM or organic. If you're concerned about the environment, organic has some interesting practices that emphasize sustainability, but GM crops already lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment."
"The small picture: There is no scientific basis for championing or rejecting either GM or organic. But...you do need to eat more fruits and vegetables: 5 helpings of fruits and vegetables per day cuts the rates of many cancers by 50%"
"The big picture: GM or organic? is a false question. The moral issue for our world is: How do we abolish the food insecurity of 800 million humans? Organic agriculture with its lower yields cannot do this. We need all available and appropriate technologies and food production systems adapted to local ecologies."
What are your thoughts? Comment below.