October 16 is World Food Day, an observance meant to raise awareness of global hunger and malnutrition and to bring forth new ideas for boosting food security.
It’s a tall order. According to the UN’s World Food Programme, the world is experiencing the largest food crisis in modern history.
“Something about this global food crisis is different,” said Dr. Cary Fowler, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Global Food Security. “The numbers of food insecure people are greater. The crises seem to be more frequent. … So, we need some game changing developments in agriculture and food security.”
“Food security fundamentally depends on fertile soils and adapted crops,” he said. “Degraded soils and un-adapted crops are never going to provide for food security.”
That is why the United States, in partnership with the African Union and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, announced the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or VACS.
“VACS aims to foster more resilient food systems by developing climate resilient, nutritious crop varieties and building healthy, fertile soils,” said Dr. Fowler. “Initially, we're focusing back on Africa.”
“On soils, we seek to help African governments and farmers answer four fundamental questions, all of which required data and analysis that my government and our farmers here have, and which are mostly lacking in Africa,” he said.
“The first question is: ‘Where to plant?’ The answer to that question will help governments to promote effective land use planning,” said Dr. Fowler.
“Second question: 'What to plant?’ Will help farmers and governments make good decisions to maximize productivity, resilience and nutrition.”
“Third question, ‘What management system to employ?’ That’s where we have to integrate everything we know about the environment, the soils, the crop varieties to help farmers make informed decisions,” he said.
“The fourth question, ‘How do we apply all that in a given year? In a given season?’ That's where we hope to expand the access to hyperlocal, timely recommendations to help farmers make the kind of management decisions in real time that they need to better manage their inputs, such as fertilizer.”
“Africa is a continent where precision agriculture is more needed than anywhere else in the world. The farmers need that kind of detailed scientific knowledge about their soils, that good management, sustainable practices and productive agriculture require,” said Dr. Fowler.
“We need to think boldly. We need to act boldly. We need some game changing developments in agriculture and food security.”
VACS may be that development.