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UW expert to discuss role of research in global food security

In the face of a changing climate and a world population forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050, feeding the world is a mounting challenge. And with 2 billion people worldwide already facing hunger or malnutrition, developing stable and effective food systems is a task of growing urgency.

On Thursday, June 23, Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will discuss the need for new approaches in agricultural research in the quest to achieve global food security. The Africa College Food Security, Health and Impact Knowledge Brokering Conference, which runs June 22-24 at the University of Leeds, will focus on ways to translate scientific research results into improved food security and human health and how strategic partnerships can help deliver those impacts in sub-Saharan Africa.

A special adviser to the provost and chancellor for sustainability sciences at UW-Madison, Jahn has worked extensively in developing countries to increase crop plant biodiversity and help link crop breeding with improved nutrition and human welfare. Earlier this year, she was appointed to serve as the U.S. commissioner to the international Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, a group of scientists and economists committed to improving the stability, security and sustainability of global food systems within the context of a changing climate.

Jahn’s upcoming talk, part of a plenary session on the global challenges of food security, will highlight cross-cutting approaches in research that address the agricultural, environmental and social constraints faced by the world’s poorest farmers.

“Agricultural research has traditionally focused on yield potential and has done very well in pushing that potential higher. But, especially in developing countries, actual output routinely falls far short of that potential, for a whole suite of important reasons,” Jahn explains.

It’s time to look beyond just crop performance, she says, arguing that creative interventions to minimize or reverse environmental degradation and to manage risk, markets and access to credit and insurance are just as badly needed.

“This would mark a profound shift away from the compartmentalized way we trained our scientists and set our targets in the 20th century,” she adds. “Farmers are managing a whole spectrum of conditions. If it doesn’t rain, the best seed in the world will do you no good.”