Let me start off with a sobering statistic. Today the UN FAO says that 925 million people were undernourished last year. This is an improvement from 2009 but still unacceptably high. Our goal is a nation is clear: to bring down this number, by increasing the availability and accessibility of nutritious food around the world.
As we look to the future, this challenge is more stark. The population is on the rise, with expanding middle classes and increasing demand for agricultural products. We'll have to increase food by 70% to feed a larger, richer population of 9.3 billion people by the year 2050. What's more, agriculture will play a role in meeting the growing energy needs worldwide. The challenge is real, and our success is not guaranteed.
For producers this is also a time of uncertainty (global climate change) and constraint (of water resources). We know that past approaches to global hunger, which focused on food aid, is not enough. We need to increase the sustainability and productivity of global agriculture. I strongly believe that our nation, our scientists, our policy makers, and most importantly of all, our farmers, ranchers, and producers, have proven they are up to this challenge.
American farmers, after all, are the most creative and productive in the world. Each acre we farm has become more and more productive. America has moved from subsistence farming in the 1920s and 1930s to being the largest agricultural exporter today. This was not pre-ordained. American farmers embraced science. So I would say that principle number one lies in innovation arising from research and development.
Higher productivity need not come at the expense of conserving natural resources. in the last 30 years alone, USDA has helped producers reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. Farms lead the nation in wetland restoration efforts. Our farms also capture carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. Farmlands, pasture, and forest resources help clean our water and our air. Principle number two is that it need not be at the sacrifice of efforts to conserve natural resources.
Two years ago, world leaders met at L'Aquila [Italy] to commit to making sustained increased investments in agricultural development... During the two years, the focus and extent of cooperation among world leaders has been remarkable. Under the leadership of President Obama, the US government has pioneered a new, coordinated approach to working toward global food security. Feed the Future, a Presidential initiative, led by USAID, is smarter and more efficient because it is focused to raising incomes and productivity of smallholder farmers through country-led strategies. It is focused on specific geographic regions and value chains within 20 countries so we can significantly invest in priority areas where we will bring about a comparative advantage.
In bringing together the capabilities of multiple parts of the U.S. government, Feed the Future (FtF) is also working with multilateral partners in the private and non-government sectors as well to build local capacity to sustainably increase agricultural productivity, improve nutrition, and foster regional trade. Through Feed the Future, the US is closely coordinating efforts through USAID and USDA. In times of reduced financial resources, efforts must be focused on core competencies.
USDA is focusing on three areas:
1. Innovation through collaborate research
2. In-country capacity building in areas such as regulations, natural resource management, trade and extension
3. Efficient market development through information, analysis, and statistics.
The third principle is that we must focus on country identified needs and the core competencies of US depts and agencies as well as other developing countries and international organizations. As we've seen for decades, innovative research is perhaps our best opportunity for game-changing results in global ag. Research in a climate changing era is working to find new methods for agricultural water use efficiency, soil conservation, and basic productivity of land where seeds are sown.
At the same time, innovative genetic research is changing plant breeding by providing us with a better understanding of the genetic basis of high yielding and stress resistant crops. To confront heat, disease, pests, salinity, toxicity and new diseases, we're using discoveries about genetic information to better predict and accelerate the results of conventional breeding. Selecting untested lines based on genomics instead of labor consuming field trials. In the past few years, USDA research has helped reveal the genomic blueprints of a host of plants and animals. In the past weeks alone, we've published research on the full genetic sequence of two common pathogens that cause wheat diseases. This sort of work allows us to bypass generations of selective breeding and to develop disease control methods to rapidly bring about more abundant, nutritious food to tables around the world.
This new understanding of genetics also helps us on one of the most threatening agricultural challenges - the wheat stem rust known as Ug99. This devastating fungus is spreading across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East with the potential to threaten crops that feed 1 billion people.
The US is playing a key role in international efforts. We have provided more than 14,000 lines of wheat to be screened for resistance to KARI and thanks to genetics, we are pre-screening lines of wheat before sending them for field tests, increasing the frequency for which Kenyan researchers are finding rust resistance in our wheat and moving us closer toward developing new Ug99 resistant cultivars.
Today we're taking another step. USDA and USAID are celebrating the groundbreaking of a new USDA Ug99 research greenhouse at the University of MN. Other US genetic science has helped us lead to a flood-tolerant rice variety that shuts down during flooding conditions but resumes growth afterwards. Developed in conjunction with University of California and IRRI in the Philippines, new varieties are helping transform the food security in FtF countries such as Bangledesh.
At the African Growht and Opportunity Ag Forum last week, USDA and USAID were proud to announce, the US will support an African led partnership focused on controlling aflatoxin. Over 1.5 billion people in the world consume dangerous levels of this toxin. This project, paid for by a broad array of organizations, included $12 million from the U.S. government. This will help us develop comprehensive regional strategies.
Other USDA projects look at heat and drought tolerance in beans. This time I want to take particular note of Dr. Carter's research. He at ARS in a facility on North Carolina has been working on breeding drought resistant beans. We've also had USDA projects addressing Vitamin A and other nutrient deficiencies that cause problems in millions of children. New corn and potato varieties and improving fruits and vegetables. This sort of advance development holds incredible potential for improving sustainable production and nutrition and raising farm incomes.
And because of our belief in collaboration, the genetic research is already available publicly. And every year, USDA distributes at no cost sessions from our seed banks. This is not just a domestic effort. Much is done in conjunction with international partners. Tight budgets threaten progress at home and broad. It's critical that we not only advocate continued investment as well as private and nonprofit sector investment as well.
Research won't feed the world alone. People will. Farmer and ranchers and the chains of individuals who help harvest, package, ship, etc. We must help farmers get the latest seed technology, improve irrigation systems, apply appropriate amounts of fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides if need be, and we must help them regulate the safety of their food systems and engage in a global trading system. Food security efforts must be country led and country driven and focused at the local and community level. We want to engage smallholder farmers and villages to learn their ideas about developing their agricultural sector so we can help them with technologies and crops that fit their needs and lifestyle. We must also understand the role of women in farming, who account for between 60-80% of food production in developing countries. And Chris I want to take this opportunity to thank Land O'Lakes, particularly for the partnership in Kenya that's working on increased dairy production.
We must also make sure that food makes it from farms to mouths in need. We must help nations build safer water systems, stronger post harvest infrastructure like roads and cold storage, and vibrant local markets with transparent information and improved financial services. national and regional governments have an enormous role to play in this effort. In the US our land grant universities and extension agents have helped producers. The USDA FAS engages with ministries of Ag in over 150 countries around the world to enable trade with policies based on sound science and help disseminate sound management practices in less developed countries.
Today through FtF we're focused on increased capacity in [names countries]. These regions were selected based on the strength of their political institutions and their vision for confronting hunger.
Ghana, for example, currently loses between 30-40% of its grain supply after harvest because of inadequate commercial and on-farm storage facilities. To help tackle this challenge, USDA is collaborating with several land grant university specialists to develop and deliver training programs to improve storage systems on and off the farm.
Our own Borlaug and Cochran fellowship programs expose our international counterparts to our American agricultural systems and innovation. For example, in Kenya the Cochran fellowship program has helped the Kenyan Plant Health Inspectorate Service adopt a port of entry inspection system similar to what we use in the US. This is providing direct benefits to the Kenyan economy as America is now importing some of its fresh vegetables. It also has potential to make a big difference in the region as Kenyans trained through the USDA program are teaching pest resistant risk procedures and assessments government ag officers in other East African nations.
US food aid programs are also driving agricultural productivity. This year more than 5.2 million people in the developing world. Our Food for Progress programs are building cooperatives, supporting extension, linking producers with buyers, and increasing market information. And our McGovern-Dole program invests in the future by increasing school attendance, literacy and food availability for children. This is occurring in over 30 countries around the world. We're also building capacity to design manage and fund national safety net programs like SNAP and school lunch in the US
As we work to develop agricultural economies, we must remember the sound ag policies here in the US are founded on good information. That's why another priority must b eincreasing transparency in ag systems. That means establishing data collection, information, and regulatory systems so nations can make informed decisions to establish sound policies, respond to change in food supplies, and reap the benefits of agricultural change.
We support in-country efforts to improve data collection in many countries. We are working to bolster in the US systems for data collection and institutions in the FtF nations so that countries can carry out their own assessments. In Nigeria, USDA is helping with a pilot project to improve sampling methods data collective techniques. As these new capabilities and systems take hold, we believe there will not only be less waste and fewer hungry people, but the global community will be better able to mitigate and respond to crop failures and famines. Countries will be able to make more informed choices. Recent high prices are a good reminder of the importance of embracing transparency and the free movement of food supplies. These measures will get food to the people that need it most and help smooth price spikes. The bottom line is, transparent systems in place, farmers around the world will be able to respond to changing markets and grow what is most profitable.
I'm ending my transcription here, but Vilsack continued speaking and then took questions. Notably, he spoke about the importance of biofuels in the U.S. and abroad. He said "biofuel production in the developing world isn't automatically good or bad." He rejects the food vs. fuel debate and defended corn based ethanol.