Nina Fedoroff on Science for Global Agricultural Challenges in Earthsky

Nina Fedoroff: “One of the biggest challenges is how to raise the grain crops, the soybeans, the corn, the wheat that will thrive in a much harsher climate.”

January 17, 2012 - New York, NY

by Beth Lebwohl and Deborah Byrd

Nina Federoff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, talked with EarthSky about the important role science can play in helping different countries work together on the big issues confronting the world. Those issues include food, energy and water. Her own work is in the area of food – and she spoke of scientific solutions to some of the 21st century’s most difficult agricultural challenges. This podcast is part of the Thanks To Chemistry series, produced in cooperation with the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Generous sponsorship support was provided by the BASF Corporation. Additional production support was provided by The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, DuPont, and ExxonMobil.

What are the global agricultural challenges? What are the issues?

The issue is very simple. We have grown to be seven billion people on the planet. And the population experts are telling us that we’ll be somewhere between 9 and 10 billion by the middle of the century. The amount of land for growing food hasn’t changed in more than half a century. And we’ve been keeping agriculture alive in many places by pumping ground water from what’s called fossil aquifers. That’s aquifers that don’t get recharged.

At the same time, we have a very productive agriculture right now. We have, until recently, been decreasing the fraction of people who are hungry in the world. But the number of hungry people has suddenly gone up. We are rapidly approaching a crisis in simply being able to grow enough food to supply humanity.

In many places in the developed world, we eat or waste probably twice as many food calories as we really need. We’re wasteful of food. We ship all over the world. We’re now realizing that generating the energy to ship the food around the world is also ruining our climate. As the climate warms, there will be places that will get hotter and drier. We’re seeing that around the world. And that’s going to make it even more difficult to increase the food supply.

Experts are saying that we have to double the food supply by the middle of the century. And we don’t have any more land and water to use. So how are we going to do that? That’s the dilemma...

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