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Research and Development for International Food Security and Nutrition

The enhancement of international food security can play an important role in achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives. Chronic hunger can set off a cycle of instability, migration and, in the worst case, famine or war. Providing food security is a multi-faceted challenge, combining biological, physical, economic and political factors. Developing countries need to make continued progress in economic policy, education, infrastructure and marketing efficiency. Science and technology can make valuable contributions by increasing agricultural productivity (and improving food preservation, storage and distribution), thus lowering food prices and leading to better nutrition and higher incomes for producers and consumers. This science-based approach will not only enhance food security, it will foster more sustainable management of natural resources.

No country is better placed to contribute to global food security through research than the United States. American agricultural research, both public and private, addresses many of the same challenges faced in developing countries. And, as techniques become more sophisticated, their international applicability can increase. A central challenge for the U.S. government is how to bring the best science to bear on solving global food security and nutrition problems.

As a starting point, the U.S. has recognized the need for a comprehensive program to acquire, document and conserve genetic resources of economic plants and animals. To this end, the U.S. conducts a domestic agro-biodiversity conservation program, and provides support to important multilateral initiatives. Germplasm conservation can have many benefits in terms of health, environmental remediation and other objectives; the genetic variability it protects is also integral to sustainable agricultural productivity.

With a global population forecast to increase at nearly 100 million people per year, there is no acceptable alternative to increasing productivity of agricultural and other land- and water-use systems. Continued growth in productivity is critical if staple food prices are to remain low and affordable for the most vulnerable groups. Scientific research is key to increasing yields of land- use systems; past gains stemming from area expansion, and even fertilizer use in some areas of Asia, cannot be continued. The scientific intensification of agriculture must continue in favored areas, but research applications must also target more marginal areas, many of which are those most threatened by non-sustainable practices and environmental degradation.

Fortunately, new techniques, such as genetic markers and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), are making plant breeding and land management into increasingly strategic endeavors. Many technical breakthroughs actually improve the environment through generation of organic matter, recycling of mineral elements and the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen. By making systems ecologically sustainable and more productive, new technologies help to relieve pressure on tropical forests and other fragile lands. In some areas, where crop production activities may remain marginally economic, food security will be enhanced through the development and application of science-based, resource-efficient production of livestock, fuel, fiber or forest products. Research is planned to develop agro-forestry and other systems that provide livelihoods to rural families, and at the same time protect the natural resource base. Thus, productivity gains in better endowed areas translate into cheaper, more abundant food not only for the urban poor, but also for low-income groups living in more marginal areas.

The potential for non-food agriproducts to contribute to food security will also be considered in developing policy and strategies. Agriculture provides many raw materials for food processing and other industrial activities. Value-added activities, especially when linked with productivity gains, can provide important sources of income and employment, on- and off-farm. Post-harvest processing, prevention of losses and many other income-generating activities can contribute to food security. U.S. programs will include research to reduce post-harvest losses and to develop further applications for agro-industrial crops. USDA/ARS works internationally in collaborative research on innovative, “green” agriproducts, such as starch-based plastics, biodetergents and biopesticides. USDA, U.S. universities and international institutions also actively collaborate in environmentally-friendly integrated pest management research.

Food security should go hand-in-hand with improved human nutrition. In order to ensure this, improved educational and policy approaches are needed, particularly if the most vulnerable groups are to be reached. Thus, social science research is needed in designing research and developing technical interventions to improve nutrition. Multidisciplinary approaches will figure largely in USG-supported, public-goods research efforts.

In order to meet the important scientific challenges ahead, CISET agencies will foster international collaborative research by universities, USDA, and private sector laboratories with counterparts in developing countries, and also build on the opportunities in existing multilateral efforts. Of particular note are the international agricultural research centers sponsored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). These centers, which are funded largely by the U.S. and other OECD donors, link closely to research institutions here and in other developed countries. They represent a key means of developing and delivering food-security enhancing, public-goods technologies to developing countries. With a large contingent of American and American-trained scientists, they represent an excellent means of linking with domestic research.

While increasing productivity remains a key goal, the environmental cost of non-sustainable use of cleared lands is increasingly recognized, as is the value of preserving fragile, biodiversity-rich non-agricultural areas. Partnerships between institutions in developing countries and centers of excellence in the U.S. will be critical in applying research expertise to the problems facing scientists, policymakers and farmers around the world.

The CISET working group is reviewing the international aspects of the federally-funded R&D portfolio in this important area. The above priorities have been identified by the working group. Future activities will focus on ways to facilitate, coordinate and promote agency programs that address these priorities.

The Global Challenge of Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases

Modern transportation, international trade, and population shifts that are aggravated by movements of migrant workers and refugees, all contribute to the spread of diseases in developed and developing countries. As a result, infectious diseases that originate in distant parts of the world represent a potential health risk to U.S. citizens. Early detection, and vigorous intervention efforts, are essential to containing new and re-emerging diseases before they spread. In the U.S. and in other industrialized nations, however, the majority of health care funds pay for treatment of those who are already ill. The key to dealing effectively with new or re-emerging infectious diseases is global surveillance and basic biomedical research.

A well-designed surveillance program can detect and track unusual clusters of illness, and establish their geographic and demographic characteristics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) efficiently tracks many known infectious diseases, but does not currently sponsor a surveillance program to detect new diseases or drug-resistant variants of known diseases. Effective surveillance and prevention strategies should be based on an understanding of the complex interactions between humans and microbes, and of the evolutionary and genetic factors that cause epidemics. NASA is currently studying the potential for using space-based remote sensing technologies to predict the spatial and temporal distribution of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Such strategies, developed with interagency cooperation, would support the establishment of a global research sentinel system capable of anticipating and containing future outbreaks.

The CISET working group is focusing on three topics: 1) identifying regions of the world where improved surveillance is most urgently needed, 2) reviewing opportunities for cooperation with other donor nations in those regions, 3) considering ways to strengthen the scientific capability for detecting and analyzing outbreaks, including the development of methods for rapid diagnosis and modeling, and database systems to track and predict the spread of disease.

Goal 3
To coordinate the international aspects of federal R&D funding across the federal agencies.

During the preparation of the FY96 R&D budget, CISET did not play a major role in coordinating the international aspects of funding across the federal agencies. CISET members may choose to play a more significant role during the next budget cycle. In reviewing their own areas of responsibility, the other NSTC committees have been asked to consider the international dimensions of R&D, and CISET will work with those committees on topics of mutual interest.

In addition to the efforts described above, CISET has identified the following two activities that serve all of its main goals:

Strategic Objectives for International S&T Cooperation with Selected Countries

Serving the interests of the United States at home and abroad requires the incorporation of scientific and technological insight into America's relations with other countries. An optimal approach to issues concerning energy, trade, defense, health, agriculture, environment, space, and many other critical fields fundamentally depends on scientific and technological knowledge, and in many cases, effective bilateral cooperation. In the post-Cold War era, in which national security includes economic and environmental security, the role of bilateral science and technology cooperation has never been more critical.

America has maintained its strongest scientific and technological links with the advanced industrial democracies. These links will continue to be strengthened through such institutions as the OECD. With the end of the Cold War, however, and given the increasing importance of international competitiveness and trade, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in close cooperation with CISET member agencies, is developing strategic objectives for international science and technology cooperation with selected countries.

  • The purpose is to: 1) develop a clear vision of U.S. interests in supporting international S&T cooperation in selected countries; and 2) provide a clear statement of White House priorities as general policy guidance to agencies as they define international projects and programs.

  • The product of the exercise will be a series of strategy papers, one for each selected country, with a description of country-specific strategic objectives for S&T cooperation.

  • The process includes extensive interagency consultations to develop strategic objectives and to draft the strategy papers. These papers, once reviewed at the working level, will be sent to the full CISET for final approval.

  • The final audience for the papers consists of: 1) OSTP Director John Gibbons and other NSTC members, as they advise the President on S&T priorities; and 2) federal agencies as guidance in planning future programs.

The development of strategic S&T objectives will help promote international cooperation in science and technology by focusing human and capital resources on those countries in which: 1) political and economic stability are central to the security of the region; 2) there is an indigenous capability to produce weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery; 3) a strong national scientific and technological community is capable of attracting long-term trade and foreign investment; and 4) a growing economy represents an emerging market for the United States.

Applying these criteria, OSTP has chosen an initial set of focus countries that includes Russia, China, India, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. In addition, Canada and Mexico (given their critical importance for U.S. economic and national security interests) will complete the list. OSTP's list of target countries overlaps, but is not identical to, the Big Emerging Markets identified by the Department of Commerce (China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Poland).

For each focus country, OSTP is working with the Department of State and all interested U.S. government agencies and departments through CISET to develop strategy documents to: 1) describe major U.S. foreign policy objectives in the country; 2) summarize the current status of the country's government support for science and technology; 3) describe U.S. Government efforts in the country to integrate S&T with foreign and economic policies; 4) identify primary targets of opportunity for the U.S., both private and public sector, to promote S&T cooperation; and 5) suggest an action agenda, to be further developed through the CISET process.

Forum on International Science, Engineering & Technology

It is important for CISET to reach out beyond the Executive Branch of the government to all members of the S&T community who are concerned about the international dimensions of the nation's S&T enterprise. CISET is organizing a public Forum on International Science, Engineering and Technology. The purpose of the event is to present the goals, principles and policies of the Administration, and to solicit the views of key individuals and institutions from outside the government. The Forum summary document will be a valuable guide for the technical agencies, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget as they prepare priorities, guidelines and project plans for fiscal years 97 and 98, and long-range plans for the future.

The Forum will bring together experts from the executive and legislative branches of government, the scientific community, the private sector, and the media, to address two overall questions relating to international S&T:

  1. How can government policies strengthen the domestic scientific enterprise by promoting international scientific cooperation in ways that protect and promote U.S. economic competitiveness and national security?

  2. How can we best utilize American leadership in science and technology to address global threats, and to support the post-Cold War tenets of U.S. foreign policy -- promoting democracy, maintaining peace, fostering economic growth and sustainable development?

Forum participants will consider these questions by concentrating on the importance of international S&T cooperation in four broad categories:

  • Basic and Applied Scientific Research
  • Economic Competitiveness
  • National Security
  • Global Issues

Within these categories, the Administration's policies, accomplishments and plans will be presented by senior government officials. Comments and recommendations will be solicited at plenary and breakout sessions.

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International Science, Engineering & Technology - Table of Contents

Executive Summary

II. Strategic Plan

Summary of CISET Activities

III. Implementation Plan

III. Implementation Plan - continued