Press Room

University of California initiative to address global food needs

BERKELEY — President Janet Napolitano today (July 1) announced a major University of California initiative intended to marshal resources across the UC system to address global challenges related to food.

The UC Global Food Initiative grows out of a commitment by Napolitano and the 10 UC campus chancellors to work collectively to intensify and expand the efforts of the world’s premier public research university to support healthy eating, sustainable agriculture and food security.

Napolitano noted that by the year 2025, the world’s population will grow by another billion people. Already, she said, 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, while another half billion suffer from obesity.

“Our goal is far-reaching,” Napolitano said. “It is to do all we can to help the world learn to feed itself in ways that are healthy and sustainable in the use of resources.

“Our starting blocks for this initiative are our 10 campuses, our Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,” she said. “That power of 10-plus makes UC well poised to take on this challenge on a scale not possible by any other higher education entity in the world.”

The initiative’s reach, Napolitano said, will be both external and internal — on campuses, among faculty and students, in research labs and in communities through UC outreach. It will build on efforts already under way. It will identify best practices and share them widely within UC, California, and, ultimately, the nation and the world.

The Global Food Initiative will expand on UC’s tradition of innovative agricultural, health and environmental research by further incorporating other disciplines such as law, humanities, education and social science to better shape, impact and drive food policy discussions.

The initiative is not limited to seeking any single solution or set of solutions to the many, inter-related food issues confronting the world around food, Napolitano said.

“The idea,” she said, “is to provide the intellectual and technical firepower, as well as the operational examples needed for communities in California and around the world to find pathways to a sustainable food future.”

Emphasizing that student engagement is key, Napolitano announced, as one of her first actions, the funding of three $2,500 President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowships to be awarded on each campus to undergraduate or graduate students. The fellowships will fund student research projects or internships.

Among other early efforts to be undertaken as part of the initiative are the following:

  • Internally, campuses will heighten their collective purchasing power and dining practices to encourage sustainable farming practices, and model healthy eating and zero food waste; food pantries and farmers markets that exist on some campuses will be spread to all 10. Partnerships with K-12 school districts to enhance leveraging procurement for these purposes also will be explored.
  • Food issues will be integrated into more undergraduate and graduate courses, catalogues of food-related courses will be developed, and demonstration gardens will be made available on each campus to increase opportunities for students to participate in experiential learning.
  • Data mining of existing information will be deployed to help develop insights and action plans for California agriculture and responses to climate change.
  • New policies will be enacted to allow small growers to serve as suppliers for UC campuses.

In describing the building blocks for the initiative, Napolitano noted that the university’s agricultural outreach and public service programs — in every California county and more than 100 nations — bring UC resources to individuals and communities to help them access safe, affordable and nutritious food while sustaining scarce natural resources.

UC has long been active in addressing issues related to food. For example, UC research taught Californians how to remove salts from the alkali soils in vast stretches of the Central Valley, transforming barren landscape into one of the world’s most productive farming regions.

Similar work continues across the UC system. To cite but a few examples, the Berkeley Food Institute is studying the relationship between pest control, conservation and food safety on Central Coast farms; students and faculty at UC Santa Cruz are transforming the field of agroecology; the World Food Center at UC Davis stands with 26 other centers dedicated to food and agriculture on that campus; the cutting-edge Healthy Campus initiative at UCLA taps all members of the campus community.

Napolitano announced the UC Global Food Initiative at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley this morning, joined by members of the university’s Food Initiative Working Group, including Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard program and Chez Panisse Restaurant and CafĂ©; UC Santa Cruz Professor Daniel Press, executive director of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at that campus; and Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley.