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Global Food Security Symposium Highlights Innovation

Global Food for Thought by Peggy Tsai Yih and Julia Whiting
Agriculture tech

The Council's first digital Global Food Security Symposium explored the challenges facing agriculture and the innovations, approaches, and solutions needed to build a more equitable and sustainable food system.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Center on Global Food and Agriculture hosted its first ever virtual Global Food Security Symposium on May 11. The hour-and-a-half event, held in support of the UN Food Systems Summit, featured experts from the private, philanthropic, and public sectors, presenting diverse perspectives on the complex and interconnected issues facing food systems.

The event began with a keynote interview between Council president Ivo Daalder and Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Suzman discussed the importance of public and private investments in food and agricultural R&D for understanding our complex and interconnected systems, as well as for creating opportunities for fundamental change in the United States, but all around the world, in addressing issues such as climate, hunger, nutrition, poverty, and equity. Claudia Sadoff, CGIAR’s Executive Management Team Convener and Managing Director of Research Delivery and Impact, reiterated the importance of agriculture R&D in a following spotlight feature, in which she shared that for every one dollar invested, agriculture R&D returns ten.

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Watch the Global Food Security Symposium to hear more about the innovations and approaches needed to address vulnerabilities in the food system.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a guest speaker at past symposia as well, reminded the audience the deep links between agriculture and health. Vilsack centered the farmers’ experience, asserting that innovations in agriculture must provide fair incomes for farmers and serve as necessary tools in the fight against climate change.

The food and agricultural system is an incredibly complex system rife with enormous problems and competing interests. The Symposium presented a panel of young game-changing innovators that unpacked some of the challenges the food system faces, such as food insecurity, diet-induced chronic diseases, the degradation of our environment and natural resources, and the loss of biodiversity. As Riana Lynn, founder of Journey Foods, succinctly said, we should be investing in ideas to change the world.

Panelist Elliott Grant, General Manager of Mineral at X, The Moonshot Factory, talked about how machine learning is being used effectively to accelerate changes across the supply chain, from agricultural production to food processing. Technologies, including machine learning, should empower farmers to be more effective stewards of their lands, noted Dan Harburg, Vice President of Global Head of Carbon Quantification, Indigo Agriculture. This will help agriculture transition from carbon emitter to carbon sink, but only through a delicate balance of private markets and government intervention in carbon markets, he cautioned. Rebekah Moses, Head of Impact Strategy at Impossible Foods, added that a “yes and” approach for environmental and economic sustainability is needed when considering how plant-based proteins can offset livestock and dairy’s environmental footprint.

Agriculture is the crucible of innovation, but innovation is not without challenges. Throughout the event, panelists noted challenges in scaling technologies so that they can be applied to both large producers and to smallholder farmers, and the need to develop different “right-sized” solutions to equitably serve underserved markets. Interoperability, data collection, data aggregation, and data reporting and privacy, remain issues to be resolved across the food chain.  There will also need to be a lens of ethical thinking applied to decisions in how final products are developed. We need to be better at listening than telling, as farmers will tell you what they need. 

As the Center’s Managing Director Peggy Yih remarked at the Symposium’s close, addressing these issues requires investment in collaboration across silos to ensure the development of new tools and solutions. Watch the full event video to hear more about game-changing solutions, and check out our blog series, Harvesting Tomorrow, to read perspectives from other players in the food system.

About the Authors
Peggy Tsai Yih
Former Managing Director, Center on Global Food and Agriculture
Headshot of Peggy Tsai Yih
Peggy Tsai Yih led the Council’s continued work on global food and nutrition security and in advancing a more sustainable and resilient food system. She has 20 years of experience in food, agriculture, and natural resource policy, with nearly 15 years at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC.
Headshot of Peggy Tsai Yih
Julia Whiting
Former Research Associate
Council expert Julia Whiting
Julia Whiting joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2019 and was a research associate with the Global Food and Agriculture Program. She supported the development of research reports on global food security issues as well as coordinated digital engagement and content for the program.
Council expert Julia Whiting