USAID unveils food research centers at SMPA-hosted sustainability summit

Chef Jose Andres spoke on a panel moderated by Senior BET Networks director Marie Nelson, alongside food policy researcher Shenggen Fan, and deputy secretary of agriculture Krysta Harden. Nicole Radivilou | Hatchet Photographer
Chef Jose Andres spoke on a panel moderated by Senior BET Networks director Marie Nelson, alongside food policy researcher Shenggen Fan, and deputy secretary of agriculture Krysta Harden. Nicole Radivilou | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Lauren Russell

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced the creation of 10 agricultural research labs at a speech Wednesday at GW.

The labs are part of the agency’s Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Center, which studies how to produce food more sustainably around the globe.

Speaking to a crowd at the School of Media and Public Affairs, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said each lab would partner with universities with top agricultural schools, such as Kansas State and Pennsylvania State universities.

Each lab will focus on specific issues related to global food security and nutrition and to “end hunger and help eradicate extreme poverty around the world,” he said.

Shah spoke on campus as part of SMPA’s Feeding the Planet summit, which brought together government leaders and celebrity chefs to talk about sustainable food production.

The summit was hosted by Planet Forward, an effort led by SMPA director Frank Sesno, which has focused on issues like agriculture in the face of a massive population boom. The world’s population is expected to increase by about 2 billion by the year 2050.

He said the Feed the Future Initiative impacts 7 million farmers around the world, primarily women. In the past, the program has distributed nutritional supplements to famine-ridden areas like Syria and provided farmers with cell phones so they can easily check the market prices of goods.

Another leading expert on environmental issues, the senior vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, said the main challenge farmers face is learning how to make more with less, as water and land resources decline.

“We’ve got to get food production moving in a more sustainable direction. We’ve got to make sustainability the norm, not the niche,” Jason Clay said.

Famous chefs like José Andrés and Spike Mendelsohn also attended the event to discuss their own innovations and lead talks with other food innovators.

Andrés, founder of the World Central Kitchen, said policy and consumerism can strike a balance in feeding the future, as well as how people must be careful how they react to disasters, pointing to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

He said although people tried to help the situation by donating food, they disrupted local food producers trying to recover from the disaster.

“We cannot do good anymore. We have to start doing smart good,” he said.

In another Feeding the Planet session, New York Times journalist Amy Harmon argued that the ruling on genetically modified foods, called GMOs, should vary across different cases.

“The risks and benefits are not fully understood,” she said. “Not all GMOs are created equal. Each crop should be weighed on its own merits.”

Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Krysta Harden discussed how policy can affect food production in a panel with Andrés and others. She called for further discussion between parties, while continuing to educate the community and prompting a sustained movement for better access to more food.

“Education is key in getting people involved in the good system,” Harden said.

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