By Dr. Rob Bertram, Director of the USAID Bureau for Food Security’s Office of Agricultural Research and Transformation
We don’t often stop to think about how much the global food supply depends on dedicated researchers who work to ensure bountiful harvests for farmers—and indeed for everyone who eats. Thanks to the vision and work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning agricultural scientist, and that of other dedicated researchers, wheat fields in the U.S. and all across the globe have a fighting chance against some of the most dangerous crop disease threats to emerge in decades.
This critical connection was very clear in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this week during the annual meeting of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI). I was honored to deliver a keynote address on Monday at the BGRI meeting, which brings together experts from international research centers, universities, national research programs, and governments to collaborate about approaches against the threat of wheat stem rust, which can quickly spread and destroy crops. Dr. Borlaug worked tirelessly to curtail this threat, and bred rust-resistant wheat varieties to help protect people all over the world from devastating disruptions to the global food supply.
His research inspired me, and I am proud of the men and women who continue to make his vision of ending hunger a reality. At USAID, we are leading the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Our research strategy emphasizes the need for smart investments and global vigilance against wheat stem rust – including monitoring for new strains of it. One of the things we are particularly excited about is the launch of a new state-of-the art greenhouse in Minnesota that USAID and USDA are funding through Feed the Future. It will enable USDA’s researchers to help overseas partners identify disease threats in samples from sent from wheat-producing countries across the world, and will strengthen international research efforts funded by the U.S. and other donors. Because these threats know no borders, this doesn’t just protect the global food supply – it is critical to the health of domestic crops, too.
During the BGRI meeting, attendees visited the University of Minnesota’s research laboratories. As an alum, I can appreciate how much the university has grown since I was a student. Yet there is still a really strong ethic of science in the service of humankind – Dr. Borlaug, who was also educated here, was a shining example of that, and it is amazing how many Minnesota scientists have helped combat crop diseases.
The attendees at the BGRI meeting are from all across the U.S. and indeed many countries around the world – many of which benefit from USAID programs. Going forward, these are some of the emerging leaders with whom we can consult with as we implement food security programs.
We are excited about hosting the Feed the Future Research Forum next week in Washington, D.C., where we will unveil the results of a series of consultations with such leaders and incorporate their input into our broader efforts.
Next week also marks the announcement of the World Food Prize winner, who will join the ranks of leaders recognized for their extraordinary efforts to advance human development by improving global food security.
This week’s BGRI meeting and next week’s events serve as a reminder about why Feed the Future investments in research are so important. They range from supporting the success of individual scientists to building the capacity of research institutions to enable the next generation of researchers to become leaders in their field.
Our goal is for these investments to build on the legacy of Dr. Borlaug’s work and enable us to effect change as we implement our vision – much inspired by his – for global food security.