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How  on earth will the world feed a rapidly growing population—projections run to about 9.5-10 billion by mid-century, an increase of over forty percent over today’s figure—comprised of more affluent consumers moving increasingly to resource-intensive protein and dairy-based diets?  And how will we do so while using less land (often of declining quality), less water, less fertilizer, fewer herbicides and fewer pesticides?

The world will face many pressing challenges in coming decades:  Climate change, water usage, energy sourcing, health disparities, economic development, and global political stability come immediately to mind.   Few such challenges are more important and complicated, however, than those relating to food and food security.   Clearly the tasks at hand are huge and multidimensional—all of the other challenges mentioned above are related to food, directly or indirectly— and the way we resolve them will largely determine humanity’s fate over the course of the century.

The Global Research Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill was established to tackle tough, cross-cutting global challenges such as those relating to food and food security.  Because of UNC’s pan-university research strengths in areas relating to food and the widespread student, faculty, staff, and community interest in food-related issues, we have committed to establishing food and food security, broadly conceived, as our research focus for three years beginning in 2015-2016.   The successful conjuncture of our present research theme—Making Scarce Water Work for All—with UNC’s pan-university theme prompts us to propose a similar linkage beginning in 2015-2016, that is to say, a pan-university initiative focused around food and food security.

In order to be successful, a robust research theme must develop around UNC’s strengths, and the university has many assets relating to food and food security. Scholars all over campus work in this space, and units such as the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Carolina Population Center, and the School of Medicine are world-renowned for their work on food, diet, and nutrition.  Both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Kenan-Flagler Business School host numerous researchers interested in issues related to food and food security (global food chains, ethical sourcing and food distribution, agribusiness, international trade in commodities, sustainable development), with the College hosting a Food Cultures cluster.  Since its inception, the GRI has supported a program in Food, Agriculture, and Sustainable  Development–now called the Carolina Global Food Program–and there are courses on food being taught all over campus.  Student interest in food issues is significant, manifested in organizations such as Nourish International and programs such as the Duke-UNC Food Symposium, and staff support is equally strong, to which the resounding success of the Carolina Campus Community Garden amply attests.

Moreover, few topics have a better chance for strong community buy-in than food/food security.  The Triangle is a famous haven for “foodies,” and farmers’ markets, locavore activities, and organic/sustainable agriculture are key features of the community.   The fact that the Triangle and St. Louis have emerged as the two leading centers of research in the field of agro-biotech punctuates the centrality of food research in the area, as, of course, does  the presence of NCSU, with  its distinguished College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  Indeed, though a bit further away, UNC’s Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis should also be considered part of our food/food security research portfolio.


For the Global Research Institute’s funded research clusters relating to food, CLICK HERE.