Investing in agricultural research is an essential, not an extra


Over the years, Bread for the World activists have worked faithfully to support the Global Food Security Act, which governs Feed the Future (the main U.S. global food security initiative), and measures in the U.S. farm bill to reduce hunger. These bills include, for example, increasing investments in research on climate change, its adverse impacts on hunger and malnutrition, and solutions that are aligned with the principles of climate-smart agriculture (CSA). This helps the U.S. government implement a food security strategy based on research. 

Current signs of climate change include more severe and prolonged drought and extensive flooding, leading to a substantial reduction in crop yields—in the United States and lower-income countries. A study in the journal Climate found that a scenario of high greenhouse gas emissions in the United States leads to a projected 23 percent reduction in the average harvest of corn, one of the country’s major crops, by the year 2100. 

CSA enables farmers to improve their productivity while adapting to and sometimes slowing climate change. The goals of CSA also include improvements in farm operations that apply to most farms—for example, improving energy efficiency by using wind or solar power. Research can offer examples of CSA practices for farmers with different specialties. 

Row-crop farmers, such as those who grow corn and soybeans, could adopt conservation tillage or cover cropping practices. These include, for example, taking time after the harvest to prepare the fields for the next growing season by covering them with crop residue, grasses, or other plants. This prevents erosion and improves soil fertility. Livestock farmers could implement a rotational grazing schedule or adopt feeding practices that reduce methane gas emissions. 

CSA approaches sometimes produce immediate results, but it is more common for the benefits to become apparent gradually over several years. Whatever the time frame, CSA is vital to ending hunger for good. Increased funding for research on CSA will provide the necessary financial and human resources to tackle priority areas such as identifying and developing locally sourced fertilizers, managing pests and crop diseases, reducing methane emissions from livestock, improving soil health, and increasing efficiency in the use of nutrients and water.  

The United States carries out the research provisions and initiatives of the farm bill and GFSA through several organizations. Academic institutions in 40 states host Feed the Future Innovation Labs, contributing to cutting-edge research in CSA. Through Feed the Future’s Innovation Lab for Current and Emerging Threats to Crops, for example, USAID is working with PlantVillage to help farmers in Kenya and Burkina Faso use fertilizer more efficiently.

Rosaline Akochi is one of those farmers. She is among a group of 1,000 Kenyan farmers increasing their yields and earning a better living using a locally sourced organic fertilizer, biochar. The fertilizer contains charcoal, which attracts and retains water and nutrients in the soil for maize and cassava crops. Farmers can make the best use of fertilizer and other resources through innovative climate-smart soil management practices like this. 

There are many feasible means of continuing to grow nutritious food even in the face of climate change, and more are being developed. But to make these techniques accessible to smallholder farmers, it is essential to support research and innovation through the Feed the Future Innovation Labs and initiatives in the U.S. farm bill. 

Abiola Afolayan is senior international policy advisor with Bread for the World.

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