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Feb. 21, 2013 Volume 34, No. 24

BIFAD members discuss strategies, challenges to increasing food supply

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GLOBAL HUNGER Chancellor Brady J. Deaton was appointed chair of BIFAD by President Obama in April 2011. BIFAD is a collection of experts on agriculture and the sciences dedicated to developing ways to help feed the growing world population. The March 15 event marks the first time BIFAD met at MU. Photo by Shane Epping


MU faculty panel talks about agriculture research

Mizzou hosted on March 15 a panel of agricultural experts who discussed how the United States, and particularly its universities, can do more to promote food security in the developing world. 

The Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) is a group of agricultural scholars appointed by President Barack Obama to develop solutions to worldwide food challenges and advise the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Obama named Chancellor Brady J. Deaton, who holds a doctorate in agricultural economics, as BIFAD chair in April 2011.

The group held a public meeting in the Fred Smith Forum of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. The theme was globalization of agriculture and food research.

During the meeting, presenters to the board challenged U.S. universities to think about how agricultural-research breakthroughs in the lab can more often make it to the farms and fields of the developing world.

Bill Folk, professor of agricultural biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), urged universities to take MU’s collaborative approach to science internationally. “Much needs to be done in order to provide incentives for young faculty to participate international research,” he said during a Q-and-A segment. “There are huge risks and costs involved for young faculty members trying to secure tenure, and doing so with an international component is almost crazy.”

During a segment on research priorities in integrated pest management and “sustainable intensification,” several presenters noted the large gap between practices in the developing world and those in the developed world.

“In Kenya and Ghana, the maize being used is mostly from the ’80s,” said Julie Howard, USAID senior adviser to the administrator on research, education and extension. “Why is that? What must we do as researchers to make sure the products of our research are known” in the developing world?

Saharah Moon Chapotin, team leader for agriculture research in the USAID Bureau of Food Security, said USAID is moving forward in its work on sustainable intensification, which encourages farmers to permanently adopt new techniques and technologies. She wants to put in place follow-ups to be sure farmers don’t abandon the new methods after aid workers have gone.

Illustrating an example of that challenge, Dale Bottrell, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, presented a case study on Southeast Asian rice farmers whose crops were badly damaged by the brown planthopper insect in the 1970s. 

Farmers battled the insect by preemptively applying pesticide, which killed the planthopper’s predators more so than the planthopper. Reducing pesticide use tamed the planthopper plague. But a generation later, farmers were back to using pesticide as they diversified their crops, and now the damaging planthopper is back.

The board also took time to review some of their successes.

Bill DeLauder, president emeritus at Delaware State University, who received an Outstanding Leadership Award from the USAID and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, reported on his October 2012 visit to Cambodia. He spent time with farmers and witnessed an Integrated Pest Management program in action. Tomato farmers are using trichoderma, a fungus added to soil that stimulates plant growth. 

MU faculty and staff also highlighted their work. Bob Sharp, director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group; Marc Linit, CAFNR associate dean for research; William Meyers, director of international agriculture programs; and Jill Findeis, chair of the MU Division of Applied Sciences, presented examples of their collaborative research during one panel session.

During a break in the meeting, Deaton praised the agriculture work at MU. “There are major challenges with the growth of global population and the need for greater expansion of agricultural production within an ecologically sustainable system,” he said. “But we have outstanding scientists who are involved in this research, and we’re going to be a vital part of the solution.”

— Erik Potter