Eric Trachtenberg, Director of the Food and Agriculture Sector at McLarty Associates, is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.
The Food and Agriculture Sector of McLarty Associates supports efforts to improve agricultural productivity by focusing on new technology, post-harvest losses, and nutrition and non-communicable diseases. They advise corporations, investors, and nonprofit organizations in this complex field.
Identifying as a “hard-core idealist,” Trachtenberg is passionate about helping to solve problems in the food system which are leading to poverty and hunger. Food Tank had a chance to speak with Trachtenberg about his work, the role of waste in the food system, and more.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Eric Trachtenberg (ET): I have been horrified by images of poverty since childhood. The lives wasted and cut short cast a dark shadow on humanity. We must do better. I chose agricultural economics in graduate school to make poverty go away.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
ET: I am a hard-core idealist, despite all the challenges. If we act effectively now, we can be the first generation in history to end mass poverty globally. To make this happen, we need to embrace science and ensure our ideas are socially, politically, economically and environmentally sustainable.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
ET: I grew up watching Star Trek—and imaged a better possible world. In a practical sense, I was always inspired by the chance to make a difference and explore the amazing diversity of our world. This combination drew me to international development and still drives me today.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
There are too many to list comprehensively, but a short list includes cutting food waste, reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases arising from diet, policy capacity building, and supporting agriculture research.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
ET: I was fortunate to meet Norman Borlaug for ninety minutes while stationed at the American Embassy Moscow. His intense curiosity, utter lack of pretentiousness, and perceptive observations about Russian agriculture were unforgettable.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
ET: There are many—but the food waste issue is egregious. It’s madness to lose what is already produced. When we throw away food, we pitch the land, labor, capital, water, energy, and other resources used for its production. If we want to feed the coming world of nine billion without destroying the planet, we must do better.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
ET: Consumers and farmers both play an immense role in the process. Farmers can play a role but consumer demands can bend markets to their will. One approach is to buy products that support sustainable practices—which can be either conventional or organic agriculture.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
ET: My advice would be to strongly support agriculture research, resist tearing up our trade agreements, and keep policymaking closely aligned with science. I would also like to see deeper engagement with developing countries to increase their sustainable production capacity. This is will enable them to feed to the world and create new markets for U.S producers.
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