Molly Jahn named to international commission

Molly Jahn, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and administrator, has been named to a newly created Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, a group of international experts on agriculture, climate, food, economics and natural resources.

The new commission was announced March 11 by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Composed of 13 eminent scientists and economists from around the world, the group will evaluate and integrate existing research to identify promising avenues toward developing stable, secure and sustainable global food systems in the context of a changing climate.

“The interaction between climate change and food, water and energy security is absolutely critical, and we would make an enormous error if we try to deal with one and ignore the other,” says commission chair Sir John Beddington, the United Kingdom’s chief science adviser.

Through 2011, the commission will work to develop science-based international policy recommendations that aim to help global agriculture adapt to climate change, improve food security, and reduce poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a dominant human terrestrial land use having an enormous influence, not only on the human condition, but also on our planetary condition,” Jahn says. “The most important thing about the word ‘sustainable’ is we’re talking about long-term commitments, long-term success.”

Jahn will bring to the commission her expertise in crop breeding and genetics with special focus on disease resistance and other economically valuable traits. Her research groups at UW-Madison and previously at Cornell University have produced crop varieties that are grown commercially on six continents. She has also worked extensively in developing countries to increase crop plant biodiversity and link crop breeding with improved nutrition and human welfare.

In late 2009, Jahn was called to Washington, D.C., to provide interim leadership as deputy and acting undersecretary of research, education and economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to her faculty position in the departments of Agronomy and Genetics, she is currently serving as a special adviser to the provost and chancellor for sustainability sciences at UW-Madison.

“Molly’s commitment to agriculture, locally and globally, and her dedication to service are admirable,” says Paul M. DeLuca Jr., the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “The results of her research have touched countless lives around the world, and through this commission she will reach out to an even wider audience. This is the Wisconsin Idea at its finest.”

Global food systems are currently built on unsustainable practices, requiring huge inputs of water and fossil fuels, Beddington says, but even so they fail to meet current demand, with approximately two billion people worldwide facing hunger or malnutrition. In addition, food demand and prices are both expected to rise in the next few decades

Changes predicted by global climate models may increase the risk of extreme weather events and affect growing conditions, pests and water availability in already-stressed agricultural systems, providing incentive for strong action.

“Our producers are making choices every day, our communities are making choices, our consumers are making choices. This commission will focus on ensuring a robust science base to support those choices and inform policy at every level,” says Jahn.

The commission will consider a range of strategies that have worked in the United States and around the world, she says, especially focusing on producer-driven strategies.

“There isn’t a single right answer,” Jahn cautions, “but there are some urgent challenges and some great opportunities.”

The 13 commissioners hail from six continents. Jahn is the only American. A complete list is available at