What does food security have to do with national security?

Food security is a global problem, with real and immediate effects on national security. Every nation must concern themselves with ensuring its population has sufficient and stable access to food — ours is no exception. Nor can we afford to ignore other nations’ concerns about access to food. In our globalized world, what happens in one nation has a very real impact on everybody else.

The world’s population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050. We cannot go without the innovative agricultural research that is necessary to provide farmers with the knowledge and technology to feed this population boom.

Securing a sustainable, safe food supply and supporting the agriculture industry at home and abroad enables the United States to serve as a global leader in national security. Our efforts should focus on providing farmers access to crop insurance, identifying and boosting effective programs through the USDA, and encouraging innovative agricultural research to develop more effective farming methods and technology.

Support for our domestic agriculture industry puts the U.S. in a prime position to make meaningful contributions to efforts aimed at combating global hunger and food shortages. Over 795 million people worldwide do not have enough food to sustain a productive lifestyle, and 75% of the poor people who live in developing countries can be found in rural areas.

There is a clear correlation between food shortages and instability. Research on the Arab Spring has revealed a connection between the widespread regional instability and rising food prices that resulted from droughts in places as far away as Russia, Ukraine, China, and Argentina.

Food shortages also have a significant impact on migration trends. Once-flourishing farmlands in West Africa have succumbed to erratic weather patterns that have dried up yields almost completely. It has forced thousands of middle aged men to leave their villages in an attempt to make it to Europe where they believe they can earn a real income — exacerbating an already bloated migrant pattern.

In Central America, thousands of poor families from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were forced to leave their homes after multiple years of low rainfall left crop outputs at all-time lows. The food shortage has also reportedly contributed to increased gang violence.

Where there is hunger, there is the potential for instability.

The U.S. government is a major contributor to global efforts that address the most pressing hunger crises. USAID goes to great lengths to enhance farming productivity in poor, rural areas around the world by applying the results of agricultural research conducted by universities in the U.S. This includes the development of techniques to improve soil quality, more effective fertilizers, hybrid seeds to produce a stronger crop yield, and better irrigation techniques, among others.

On top of that, the U.S. is currently the largest food assistance donor to refugees and internally displaced persons in Syria. It also provided more food assistance than any other country to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa since the disease’s outbreak in 2014.

The U.S. is in a position to shape public health by maintaining strong food safety standards and being able to respond quickly and efficiently to food safety emergencies such as the spread of disease among our nation’s food animals and crops. Livestock diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease can devastate cattle production, and invasive species can cripple vegetable crop production.

In order to address this threat, we must continue to garner support for networks of veterinary diagnostic labs that work on early detection of foreign animal diseases — as around 75% of emerging infectious diseases like Zika started in animals. Protecting our food supply also includes continually improving our biosurveillance methods to protect the Homeland from terrorist acts on our country’s agriculture industry.

Where there is hunger, there is the potential for instability. As we have seen, terrorist groups and bad actors take advantage of people who are in desperate situations. The U.S. must continue displaying global leadership on issues of food shortage and security wherever they arise.

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