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Shared Challenges, Shared Solutions

By USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research

It’s been a productive time here in Qingdao, China. USDA and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), with support from the Gates Foundation, have gathered some of the top minds from around the world at the Mini-Summit on Agricultural Research to discuss challenges related to food security, food safety, and sustainable agriculture. China’s Vice Minister for Science and Technology, Zhang Laiwu and I led talks among experts from many nations and many sectors to focus on strengthening international research collaboration to benefit our nations and agriculture around the world. Representatives of organizations like the Gates Foundation joined forces with African research leaders, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank to share information and discuss ways to leverage global resources to address global challenges affecting all nations.

The USDA and China’s MOST have a history of working together, with mutual respect, and with each meeting the relationship between our agencies grow stronger. USDA’s vision to address our shared challenges in the developed and developing world alike includes cooperative multilateral and international efforts. Through these efforts, we hope to further establish global research collaboration platforms which provide the building blocks for the scientific community to confront many of our most pressing challenges. These platforms include:

  • Open access to scholarly publications and information;
  • Open access to genetic, genomic, and other agricultural data;
  • Open access to germplasm collections;
  • Improved agricultural statistics;
  • Improved agricultural innovation systems, technology transfer with consideration and respect for all relevant intellectual property rights, information communication technology, and extension; and
  • A regular meeting of agricultural chief scientists to establish priorities, set targets, track progress, and reorient resources around common goals

So, how does this international collaboration help us at home?

This summer, much of our country is affected by drought—the most damaging to U.S. agriculture since the drought of 1988. Although USDA’s crop analysts predict lower crop yields this year, total production is forecasted to be more than double production in 1988 thanks to American farmer resilience and shared science. In a “flagship program” with MOST, one objective is collaborative research on plant breeding to introduce new crop varieties that resist pests and thrive with less water. Another “flagship program” discussed last year on water-saving technologies addresses high-priority problems for water and agriculture in both countries and around the world. This collaborative research widens the “scientific brainpower” we need to successfully respond to unfavorable weather conditions at home and abroad.

USDA leverages every research dollar. Agricultural Research Service scientists study drought-resistant seeds and conservation techniques used in dryland farming. Our extramural research agency, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), supports drought-related research and extension projects all across the country conducted by NIFA cooperative extension partners. From providing farmers with predictive climate models at Purdue University to train-the-trainer webinars on estimating crop losses with agronomy extension educators at Kansas State University, NIFA and its partners are providing resources to help Americans affected by the drought.

Many years of collaborative research with China have advanced U.S. government interests and effectively contributed knowledge to address many agricultural concerns facing Americans. But, more challenges lie ahead. If we plan to produce enough safe, nutritious food to feed 9 billion by 2050, we must work together with our global partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as Europe in agricultural research and development to help ensure food security for generations to come.

We plan to keep the ball rolling. These types of discussions will be expanded to include other leaders from around the world at the G-20 launched Meeting of Agricultural Scientists in Mexico next month. For more information, please visit the G-20 website.

This post originally appeared on the USDA Blog.

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