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I was recently in Des Moines, Iowa for the 2022 World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue, talking with people from around the world about food system transformation. I was excited and honored to emcee Wednesday’s discussions and I moderated a panel yesterday, too—more on that later.
But first, I want to talk about this year’s World Food Prize laureate, Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig. She’s a Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where she heads the Climate Impacts Group. Their mission is really important—essentially, to investigate the impacts and interactions of climate factors on human well-being.
She was selected for the Prize for her work to understand the relationships between the climate and food systems especially through the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project, or AgMIP, which she co-founded.
Rosenzweig works to not only improve agricultural models themselves, but also boost the scientific and technological ability to use those models to understand the growing climate crisis, how it’s affecting crops and food security, and how farmers can respond. Her work is extraordinarily important—more now than ever before.
“We cannot solve climate change unless we address greenhouse gas emissions coming from food,” Rosenzweig says. “At the same time, we can’t ensure food security for all unless we develop resilience to the changing climate that is already happening and is projected to exacerbate in the future.”
And we can’t wait. I’ve been vocal in criticizing businesses and organizations whose pledges rely on the year 2050, or even 2030. It’ll be too late, and AgMIP’s data backs this up. If greenhouse gas emissions are high, maize production will already have dropped by 24 percent by the time we reach 2030.
We also heard from Samantha Power, the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. “More than any other force, it is climate change that threatens humankind’s ability to feed itself,” she said. “Today, the ways we grow our crops must not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also help communities vulnerable to climate change build resilience.”
As we know, the communities that are most jeopardized by climate change are also the very same ones that are historically the most marginalized, the most underserved, the most affected by racism and misogyny. That gender component is super important, too—if women had the same resources and the same access as their male counterparts to education, to extension agencies, to financial and banking services, they could lift millions of people out of hunger and poverty.
Shameran Abed, the director of development agency BRAC International, put it really well when he said: “We have the resources, the evidence and the know-how to end extreme poverty for good. What we need to do is mobilize the political will.”
And like I mentioned, yesterday morning I had the chance to moderate an incredible panel, Zeroing in on Health and Nutrition in the Climate Era. I spoke about how the private sector can step up and make sure the investments they’re making benefit the health and nutrition of our communities. How scientists can invest in research that includes more nutrient-dense crops. How we can focus on building resilience in communities that have been historically marginalized and underserved.
Being in Des Moines for the World Food Prize and the Borlaug Dialogue is incredible to be able to talk about these issues, and I also appreciate that speakers like Samantha Power took a moment to recognize the complicated legacy of the man who lends his name to this event. Norman Borlaug was an agronomist who spearheaded the Green Revolution, a massive implementation of high-yield crops and Western agricultural methods, including certain fertilizers and pesticides, in developing countries.
The Green Revolution saved millions of people from starvation, and at the same time, led to Indigenous crops and cultivation techniques becoming more expensive or lost altogether. These can both be true, and we need to reckon with all elements of our past if we truly want our future to be more sustainable and just.
So I look forward to more nuanced and meaningful conversations this week with food system leaders in Des Moines, and with you, too—email me at email@example.com to share your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives.
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Photo courtesy of Shayan Ghiasvand, Unsplash