I recently saw a quote from British author C. S. Lewis that said, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” This notion resonated with me as we enter December. I hope that despite the challenges we are facing, this time of year inspires you to reflect and look ahead with optimism to the new year and new decade that is upon us.
There is value in reflecting on the past, if for no other reason than to see how far we’ve come. As I begin to think back, I am awestruck—we sure have accomplished a lot as an organization and industry in the last 12 months. One of the things I am most proud of from an IFT perspective is our growing effort to improve diversity, inclusion, and equity within the organization. Our community has truly embraced the desire to cultivate an environment where people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences feel welcome, safe, and respected, and we are seeing that come through in big and small ways. From the sharing of D&I moments at IFTSA board meetings and the “What’s Your Diversity Superpower?” button wall at IFT19 to the diversity of thought we experience among our divisions and sections, diversity and inclusion has become woven into the very fabric of our culture more and more with each passing day. In addition, the IFT member-led Inclusive Systems Task Force has worked diligently this year to identify opportunities for IFT to prioritize and foster inclusiveness in its operational systems so it can more effectively serve its members and the science of food community. After sharing their recommendations in a virtual town hall meeting in October and in a presentation to the board of directors in November, I am looking forward to seeing the recommendations begin to take shape in the year ahead.
Speaking of accomplishments, this year’s recipient of the World Food Prize, Simon N. Groot, is an inspiring innovator who is using traditional, non-GMO plant breeding techniques in an innovative way to preserve and improve indigenous crops for smallholder farmers in parts of the world where hunger is still most prevalent. More than four decades ago, Groot recognized the need to break the vicious cycle of poverty caused by low-quality, poorly adapted, lowyielding vegetable seeds in tropical regions. Starting in Southeast Asia, he and his partner in the Philippines began developing vegetable seed varieties with enhanced disease or virus resistance that provided significantly higher yields with a reduction in environmental impact. In addition to seeds, his company also provides training and support to its customers. As his business model caught on, the use of his company’s seeds spread through Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and now serves more than 30 million smallholder farmers in more than 60 tropical countries. Hundreds of millions of consumers have greater access to nutritious vegetables thanks to his dedication and ingenuity, proving that it takes both new innovations and the use of tried-and-true solutions in new and different ways to solve the hunger challenge in front of us.
Despite the work of those like Groot, the United Nations 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Report tells us the number of people suffering from hunger has continued to rise since 2014. The prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged in the past three years, with the greatest deterioration in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the UN, attention needs to be given to increasing the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, who account for as much as 80% of the local food supply in some regions of Southeast Asia and Africa. Helping farmers all over the world implement resilient agricultural practices and reduce food waste is important work. There is still much to be done if we are going to be able to feed our growing population.
To that end, the Rockefeller Foundation is joining a growing list of organizations supporting competitions seeking food science and technology innovation. They recently announced the Food System Vision Prize— inviting organizations, universities, institutions, companies, cooperatives, and partnerships from around the world to create compelling and progressive visions of the world’s food system by 2050. Our IFT community also has the opportunity to give back to communities with high need across the globe through the Volunteer Globally program, which is offered through IFT’s Feeding Tomorrow foundation. Visit https:// www.ift.org/volunteer-globally to learn more or to donate to this important initiative.
It will take the best minds in the science of food to tackle the difficult challenges that surround us, but I am confident we have the expertise and passion among us to provide safe, nutritious, and sustainable food for all in the years to come. I look forward to working with all of you to confront these critical challenges in the new year.