Healthy Food for a Healthy World: The Role of Talent in Food Security

Originally published on April 20, 2015.

The following piece, written by Land O'Lakes, Inc. President and CEO Chris Policinski, originally appeared on The Chicago Council on Global Affairs blog on April 16, 2015.

Today, one in nine people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Our global population is predicted to grow from 7 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050. This population growth will require a staggering increase in food production even as our natural resources continue to be stretched. More food will need to be produced during the next 50 years than in the previous 500 years combined.
 
The good news? The ability of the agriculture and food industry to improve productivity gains is well-proven: today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food using 2 percent less inputs when compared to 1950, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Agriculture and food is one of the greatest growth industries of our era, and will continue to accelerate in an era of increased demand. However, solutions to feeding this global population aren’t as simple as just more farmers producing more food.
 
Key to addressing the challenge? Talent. We need a generation that helps grow, produce and distribute more food, in an increasingly productive and sustainable way, to help feed a growing global population: a generation versed in business, science, technology, global affairs and more. This is, indeed, about feeding the world, in an increasingly complex and global environment. We need to prepare the next dedicated workforce to meet this global food challenge, engaging the very best minds across many disciplines.
 
As the industry aligns its human capital needs, supply is trailing demand. According to a report by the STEM Food & Ag Council Report released in October 2014, STEM degrees in agriculture fields trailed demand: “In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 5,264 undergraduate and graduate degree completers, compared to 5,800 related job postings and 27,400 new hires each year.” And, according to the “Report to the President on Agricultural Preparedness & the Agriculture Research Enterprise,” by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released in 2012: “At universities, relatively few graduate students enter into agricultural fields, and industry has difficultly recruiting the technical employees for its breeding and research programs…To meet the current and future challenges that agriculture will face, this situation must be reversed.”
 
As individuals are increasingly removed from any direct connection to agriculture, we must engage to illustrate the exciting opportunities for career growth, for business, and the important purpose of our work.
 
At Land O’Lakes, we work with this purpose in mind every day to meet the need for nutritious, affordable, sustainably produced food. We’re a $15-billion, Fortune 200 company with more than 94 years of history as a farmer-owned cooperative. While we are best known for our dairy business, Land O’Lakes businesses span a unique farm-to-market view of the industry. From crop inputs to animal feed to branded food manufacturing and marketing, we truly participate in the industry from end-to-end. In addition, we operate an international development arm that, through work with USAID and others, has positively impacted more than 3 million lives worldwide through programs and training initiatives in 80 countries.
 
We want to share the opportunities for a meaningful career in agriculture. That’s why we invest in the next generation — Land O’Lakes is proud to lead a new initiative within our company, the Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security Program. We are also engaging with other organizations to reach the next generation. One of our Emerging Leaders, Tara Mittelberg, a student at Northwestern University, is also serving as a delegate in the Next Generation Delegation for the 2015 Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium.
 
Programs such as these, which engage students in an innovative and pragmatic way, help to illustrate firsthand the opportunities that lie ahead for agriculture and food.
 
There is also a strong need for public and private support for educational institutions and agriculture research, through increased government funding for land-grant universities and other agricultural programs. Pragmatic private investments in educational institutions supporting the pipeline of talent are also of increased importance. These institutions play a key role in educating students. Both government and private industry have a responsibility to promote the long-term vitality of the educational system training, develop a high-caliber workforce and foster innovation in research.
 
Our industry promises challenge, complexity and purpose. The next generation of leaders will strengthen the future of the industry while positively impacting our world in numerous ways. As students, agricultural experts and concerned citizens engage in exploring new and sustainable solutions to this urgent, high-stakes issue, we get closer to solutions that build strong communities and careers while feeding the world. That’s powerful, and that’s opportunity.

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