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Texas A&M vice-chancellor talks on agriculture The Peninsula

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Sustainable agriculture is essential for national security, said Patrick J Stover, PhD Vice-Chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife in The Texas A&M University System and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University during a recent talk.

Stover discussed new expectations of agriculture, which have changed during the past few decades with several implications for national security. One of these national security issues is hunger, which is both a cause and a consequence of conflict, and hunger and malnutrition are issues of national security at many different levels. For instance, the 2018 Global Nutrition Report focused on the connection between food and its impact on health. While progress has been made in growth stunting since 2000, the incidence of obesity in children has increased since 2000.

“Agriculture used to be expected to produce food, fibre and fuel,” Stover said. “Clearly, as we’re seeing the statistics related to childhood obesity, increasing the quantity of food alone is just not enough.” 

He also discussed national and international initiatives to bring together agriculture and these new expectations of agriculture, particularly the idea that food should be medicine, using his own research into folic acid as a dietary supplement to help reduce birth defects in women who are genetically predisposed to have babies with spina bifida. Because diet is a major driver of health care costs throughout the world, Stover said, the United States is increasingly looking to food policy to reduce health care costs by preventing diet-related chronic disease. 

Stover recently served on a committee established by the US National Academy of Sciences that developed a framework in which nutrition guidance is based on reduction of chronic disease. With consumers’ expectations and values changing around food and agriculture, experts need to create more trustworthy nutrition guidance, he said. “We need to do more to get the science right about what people eat and how that impacts their health,” Stover urged. Furthermore, he said, there are other expectations of agriculture and the food supply. 

“Not only are we supposed to make healthy people, but we’re supposed to do it in a way that’s environmentally sustainable. We want to make sure our food systems are going to be there for generations to come and so we have to manage our inputs like water and fertilizer to ensure that we have the smallest possible environmental footprint. And we have to do it in a way that considers our social values and in a way that is profitable.”

Stover’s talk was part of a week-long visit to Qatar during which he and other Texas A&M agricultural experts from its main campus in Texas to visit Qatar’s agricultural and livestock industries.  

“One of the more challenging parts of the world to build an agriculture system is a place like Qatar where you have issues with water or extreme temperatures that aren’t amenable to how we do agriculture in other parts of the world,” Stover said. “But within Texas A&M AgriLife, we are building a presence in controlled environment agriculture. In Qatar, here is a real-world example where a tremendous amount of effort and resources are being placed into becoming food-secure, both through its animal and plant agriculture built in special environments. The scale is unprecedented.”

Texas A&M University is known worldwide for its expertise and excellence in not only engineering but also agriculture and life sciences, which have been an integral part of Texas A&M since 1876 when it was founded as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.  

Dr César Octavio Malavé, dean of Texas A&M at Qatar, said, “The Texas A&M University System’s breadth and depth of expertise and experience — from engineering and agriculture, to veterinary medicine and more — could bring significant progress to Qatar’s industries and its people’s way of life. Through our partnership with Qatar Foundation, Texas A&M is uniquely positioned to engage local industry, community and government to leverage this expertise for the benefit of Qatar, its economy and its people.”

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