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The Future Will Be Fed by the Fearless

By Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture

The following is a guest blog post by Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of Norman Borlaug and associate director of external relations at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.

My grandfather, Dr. Norman Borlaug, never faltered or tired in his lifelong battle to feed, as he would say, the “hungry and miserable.” And neither can we.

How are we going to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050? It’s a big question. And our solutions will need to be different than in the past because the challenge is changing.

We need to produce, store, transport and distribute more food than ever before for a population (currently 7 billion and growing) that is rapidly changing the way—and what—it eats. We need not just more food, but more nutritious food. And we need to do all this on the same area of arable land we have today with fewer resources—particularly fossil fuels, water and nitrogen—at a time whenwe must also mitigate the enormous challenges associated with climate changes.

But even in the face of these challenges, we have good reason to hope. 

Vast and exciting opportunities for innovation from different sectors can aid us in meeting the challenges we face.

Vast and exciting opportunities for innovation from different sectors can aid us in meeting the challenges we face—we have no other choice but to advance and adopt technology.

Globalized markets, climate change’s dramatic effects, increased food prices and even social media have grabbed headlines and our collective attention.

The work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative have helped raise the profile of agriculture once again. Over the past two years, U.S. leadership has mobilized the world to focus on these issues and bring science and innovation to bear to solve them.

My grandfather believed that everyone has the moral right to food and an education. Business as usual won’t adequately address the challenges we face in feeding the world or get us to this reality. We need fresh ideas and open minds.

Fear of change is one of our greatest obstacles to ensuring there is enough food to feed 9 billion. The next generation of “hunger fighters”—as my grandfather called them—doesn’t have this fear nor do they believe that these issues are unsolvable. They are optimistic, compassionate, driven, creative and concerned about international issues. That is precisely what we need to solve hunger: Their innovative andunconventional ideas can be part of the solution. They’ve grown up with technology—they accept and understand the powerful role it can play in our lives. It is their families, incomes, livelihoods and world that will be directly affected by the looming challenges of food security in the future.

I’m inspired by the countless high school and college students willing to take opportunities to travel abroad, out of their comfort zones, and bring innovative ideas to the fight against hunger.

Through my involvement in the Thought for Food Challenge (TFF) and Planet Forward, I have seen first hand how this generation is using technology to address food security.

Take for example the Henlight, created by a team at University of California, Davis, which won the Thought for Food Challenge in 2013. Henlight is a small, solar-powered LED light that helps poultry farmers maintain a consistent egg supply during shorter days of the year. By providing a few extra hours of light in the early morning, Henlight uses a poultry-specific wavelength to encourage hens to lay eggs more consistently. This enables farmers in both the United States and emerging economies to increase their livelihoods and the wellbeing of their communities, while better serving markets and avoiding seasonal variation. Henlight’s creators have taken their simple innovation to market and aim to make a difference with it in the lives of smallholder farmers.

Another example is Planet Forward at George Washington University. This group is engaging college students across disciplines to tell the story of food security using social media. It gives a voice and platform to students to share their stories and engage others. It also provides opportunities for students to travel internationally and be a part of the global dialogue on how we feed our growing global population.

Young people pioneering projects like these give me hope. By embracing change rather than fearing it, we will feed 9 billion by 2050.

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