Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Kimberly Flowers, the Director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Kimberly Flowers (KF): I got hooked on the power of agriculture in 2010, when I was asked to help support the startup of Feed the Future, the United States global hunger and food security initiative. I had been working for USAID in Ethiopia for three years before that, where I saw first-hand the illogical imbalance between emergency food aid and long-term agricultural development programs.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
KF: Gender integration. Female farmers are one of the keys to success. If women had greater access to quality inputs, information, and financial services, coupled with greater empowerment to participate equally in the formal economy, we could feed 150 million more people.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
KF: From drones capturing data to drip irrigation in a box, technology is transforming the food system. Right now, I am most excited about the growth of digital solutions, like using apps on smartphones to support agricultural extension workers. Check out mPower’s diagnostic application that helps identify pests and diseases for farmers in Bangladesh.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
KF: In 2009, when I was in Nampula, Mozambique on a USAID work trip, I remember meeting a female farmer who had increased her income significantly by growing orange flesh sweet potatoes. When I asked her what she was going to do with the extra money she was making, she said she was planning to build her family a new house and to paint it orange in honor of the crop. Her entrepreneurial spirit and sense of humor inspired me.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
KF: I continue to glean inspiration from the stories of smallholders whose lives have changed because of practical training, innovative technology, or unique partnerships. My goal is to keep food security, with a particular emphasis on the potential of smallholder farmers, at the top of the development dialogue.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
KF: Climate change. Agriculture is more threatened by climate change than any other sector. Droughts, floods, and warmer temperatures reduce crop yields and increase pests and diseases. It is estimated that for every one degree Celsius of global warming, grain yields will decline by five percent.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
KF: We need to invest more in agricultural research and development so that we have the most advanced, innovative solutions to increase agricultural productivity in light of dwindling resources and a growing population whose increased wealth spurs demand for richer, more animal-based, and higher energy input diets.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
KF: Eat less red meat to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to climate change mitigation. Between 1950 and 2010, world meat consumption climbed from 50 million to 280 million tons. Beef requires twenty-eight times more land to produce than chicken and results in five times more climate-warming emissions.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
KF: Biotechnology. It is far from a silver bullet, but enhanced seeds can boost agricultural productivity, reduce dependence on pesticides and herbicides, and improve nutrition. The fearful rhetoric embedded in the discussion around biotechnology does not match the scientific reality and life-changing possibilities of transgenic crops.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
KF: If the Global Food Security Act doesn’t pass in 2016 to codify Feed the Future into law, it should be a top priority for the next president. However, the new administration will also likely need to deal immediately with the lingering effects of El Niño, as its impacts on climates are a primary driver of acute food insecurity in Central America and East Africa. Other serious food security emergencies in Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen will also require urgent attention.
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