The Citrus Experiment Station on the University of California Riverside campus

The University of California wants to use its research prowess to help solve global food issues.

Global food issues a priority of UC President Napolitano

University of California wants to leverage its research capacity to help solve global food issues    

Global food issues will become integrated into more of the curriculum within the University of California system as part of a larger global food initiative.

University of California President Janet Napolitano presented her ideas July 1 to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.

The UC Global Food Initiative is intended to marshal the university’s resources — including curriculum and world-class research, student efforts and operational efforts in place across the university’s 10 campuses — to address global challenges related to food.

“This initiative grows out of a commitment made by all 10 UC campus chancellors and myself,” Napolitano said. “It is a commitment to work collectively to put a greater emphasis on what UC can do as a public research university, in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world, to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues.”

Emphasizing student engagement, Napolitano announced 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.

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 in education

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.

The food initiative will build on UC’s tradition of innovative agricultural research to support farmers and ranchers. Future efforts will build on work already begun by UC’s 10 campuses and its Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) to address internal and external issues with a variety of approaches.

UC research, for example, taught Californians how to remove salts from the alkali soils in the Central Valley, transforming that barren landscape into one of the world’s most productive farming regions, Napolitano noted in her presentation to the CDFA board.

Today, the World Food Center at UC Davis stands with 26 other centers dedicated to food and agriculture on that campus. Students and faculty at UC Santa Cruz are transforming the field of agroecology. The Berkeley Food Institute is studying the relationship between pest control, conservation, and food safety on Central Coast farms. The cutting-edge Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA taps all members of the campus community.

The initiative is not limited to seeking any single solution or set of solutions to the myriad food issues confronting the world, Napolitano said.

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“The idea 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,” Napolitano said.

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.

The university’s work also will help inform and drive policy discussions from the local to the international levels, and expand partnerships with government agencies such as the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“This initiative shows great vision and leadership from President Napolitano and the University of California,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, “Climate change and population growth will greatly strain our ability to provide healthy food to people here and around the world.

“President Napolitano’s proposal to leverage the strategic assets of the entire UC organization makes it a valuable partner in addressing the significant challenges and opportunities for our production agriculture and food system.”


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