As we wrap up the final episode of this season’s podcast we think it best to take a step back and look at food-related issues on a global scale.
UF/IFAS works to improve the lives of Floridians and beyond...even those across the globe. For our final episode, we sit down with UF/IFAS senior vice-president Dr. Angle and the Global Food Systems Institute director, Dr. Adesogan to discuss hunger around the world.
UF/IFAS Global Food Systems Institute: https://foodsystems.ifas.ufl.edu/
More on the One Egg project: https://livestocklab.ifas.ufl.edu/projects/dr-sarah-mckune/
One Egg flip book: https://livestocklab.ifas.ufl.edu/media/livestocklabifasufledu/pdf-/The-Un-Ouef_Flipbook_-English.pdf
To learn more about UF/IFAS and how food IS our middle name, visit: ifas.ufl.edu/food/
Welcome to the Food is our Middle Name podcast. I'm your host, Tory Moore. And today we're looking beyond Florida and asking what's the deal with global food issues?
Throughout season one of the podcast, we've mostly discussed food within the state of Florida, but what about food issues outside of the state? And what about global food issues like hunger and food insecurity?
The University of Florida works on food-related topics beyond the Sunshine State that benefit communities around the world and everyone here in Florida.
Here to share more with us about the university's worldwide food efforts is Dr. Adesogan, the leader of the UF/IFAS Global Food Systems Institute.
Welcome, Dr. Adesogan! I'm so excited to learn from you today.
Thank you, Tory. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Thank you. All right, so, here on the podcast, we have a little bit of a game that we play to get everybody warmed up and kick off the episode.
So, I'm going to ask you a series of really simple, fun food-related questions. There's no wrong answers, obviously, the goal is to answer as many as you can before the time is up, so you have 15 seconds to answer these questions. Are you ready?
All right. Here we go. What's your favorite food?
Coffee or tea?
Food you hate?
Sweet or spicy?
Very highly spicy.
Oh. Favorite meal of the day?
Aha. Good one. So, I need to hear about the food that you hate. What is that?
Marmite is a spread. I lived in Britain for ten years.
And it’s a spread that goes on toast and so on. And it to me, it is very revolting. And I'm not alone because the British had for Marmite, when I lived there was somebody that would bring a jar out and people would literally be fleeing from the person.
So, it's one of those things you either absolutely love or.
Or you hate it?
Or you hate it, yes.
Oh, my gosh. I've never heard of that. That's interesting. And you did a great job. You answered pretty much about average -- what everyone does. So great job.
All right so let's get into our interview. I want to first start off by introducing you and what you do. So, you're the director of the UF/IFAS Global Food Systems Institute. Tell me what a day is like in your shoes, if you can.
Thank you very much, Tory.
We're still relatively new, especially we, we started in 2020, two years ago, and, in the last couple of months, our Senior Vice President, Dr. Angle, gave us a mandate to really focus a lot of our efforts on global issues as well as local issues.
So, we're still trying to formulate those plans. So, a lot of it is meeting with different stakeholders at the university particularly and trying to listen to them on what that means, what having a truly impactful and preeminent food institute UF should look like and how we can get there.
That makes sense. So what are -- I know you're kind of, you know, figuring it out still, but what are some of the efforts or priorities or goals that you've identified so far that you guys work on?
Well, the, some of the areas we've worked on our mandate is to try and promote international engagement across the three mission areas. So that's research, teaching and extension. And then also, we're also trying to look at opportunities to involve students. So, we're looking at some of the areas of the world where the food issues, food security issues are most challenging.
And we met with some of the leaders of the Global Food Systems Institute about two weeks ago and asked them where we should prioritize our efforts. And they said number one is Africa. And number two, the Americas and Asia. So, those are the areas they want us to prioritize in addition to prioritizing work here in Florida. And partly -- part of it is because of a problem called stunting.
Stunting is when a child fails to achieve their high potential. And, you know, people are genetically predisposed to being short or tall. That's not what we're talking about. But when you have a group of children, a population of children, that don't achieve the high potential, that's a problem; surely reflects underlying malnutrition. So, they have growth problems, but more importantly, cognitive problems. And so, they can never do as well as they want to at school and never achieve as much as they have the potential to because their brains are not very well developed in infancy.
So those are some of the things that we focus on globally as well as our work here in Florida.
So, before we talk today, you mentioned the first 1,000 days concept. Can you tell me what that's about?
The first thousand days is a very critical period in the life of a child. Within about two years, that first thousand days, 90% of the brain development is complete. And it's very important that essential micronutrients are readily supplied to the developing brain so that it's properly formed.
So that thinking, that transmission of messages, and so on are properly formed. And what a child eats can influence that development. I never realized that until about 2013.
So, a deprivation of some key micronutrients from a child's diet in that infancy stage can predispose that child to a compromised or underdeveloped brain. And some people have said it condemns children to a lifetime of underperformance, which is really a tragedy.
Right. And I think, too, it's not just about filling the bowl, right? Like you said, it's about the micronutrients. It's what's in the bowl. Because I think sometimes when we think about hunger, we think about just being able to eat. But it doesn't always – that’s not always that. It's what you're eating as well.
You're absolutely right. And so people talk about hunger, but there's also hidden hunger. And hidden hunger is when a child has a full plate or maybe a full stomach, but that meal is not really nourishing because it's deficient in important micronutrients that are important for growth or health or cognitive development.
And those can cause significant issues for individuals, for their communities. And even some World Bank researchers have said that when a nation's workforce is made up of people who are stunted in infancy in that first thousand days, the economic productivity, their gross domestic product for that country is penalized by 7% on average globally. And I was in one of the African countries where they told me the penalty they are suffering is 16% because of this hidden hunger problem.
Wow. So that was, you led me right into my next question is how does that impact the rest of the world? Or if we want to get that granular, I mean, right down to us in Florida, how does hunger elsewhere affect us here?
Well, there are many ways in which it affects us. As we see, we live in a very global connected world. Now, when you think about COVID, when you think about, you know, the war in Ukraine and how that's affected fertilizer prices, now fuel prices, fertilizer prices, food prices are going through the roof.
And so, when we have malnutrition across, you know, across the world, it's a real challenge and it's our moral obligation to help. But beyond that, there are a number of ways in which it can affect us. First of all, malnourished -- when those nations are not able to produce enough food, then you have a lot of them, a lot of the young people from those nations looking elsewhere when they can't make a good living for themselves, you know, contribute to the migration issues that are a challenge in many different parts of the world. So that's one issue.
Another issue is that when you have this problem persisting, then instead of a nation being able to stand securely on its two feet, it contributes to a sense of dependance. And rather than, you know, one of the things that one of the former congressmen who congressional representative who worked with us, Congressman Yoho, he used to say aid to trade. He used to talk about how we can work with partners in these countries in ways that they become major trading partners like South Korea, used to be an aid recipient. Now it's one of the US major trading partners. And so there can be a win-win situation where we foster trade between parties in those countries and parties here in Florida and in the US.
Another aspect that can be a win-win is we, by addressing these problems of malnutrition, some of the food types that are most important for addressing these hidden hunger problem, the best food type on the World Health Organization is livestock products -- milk, eggs, fish. And the reason is because it's not so much the concentration of micronutrients, because you have similar micronutrients in plants to a, to a large extent. It's more the bioavailability. It's more that the animal sources are much more readily absorbed. And so, for that tiny brain of the infant, we supply those needed micronutrients much more rapidly.
Tory Moore [00:10:45]
So, one of the things that we work on, but you also have fruits and vegetables are not also good sources of these key micronutrients. The challenge is that these nutrient-dense foods are expensive in these countries, in the developing countries, in the rural areas. They can be inaccessible because of bad roads and there can be all kinds of taboos surrounding consuming some of these foods. For instance, in some places, if a child, if a child tries to consume an egg, adults will tell the child not to because taboos, they have traditional taboos that say things like, you eat that egg, you’ll become a thief.
Oh, wow. Okay.
So, there are all kinds of social cultural issues. Or in some of the countries like in Nepal, a lot of the Nepali are Hindus. And so, consumption of meat from cows is, is, is not, is not, is not done. Rather, it would be milk. So, there's a lot of milk consumption. But again, milk, eggs, meat tend to be expensive. They can be subject to a lot of food safety issues.
So, a lot of the work we do also addresses how wholesome is the food? How, how productive are the developing countries systems for producing the beef and the eggs and so on? And in many cases, if you take a chicken in, you know, in Africa versus one here, the chicken in my native Nigeria, for instance, would be much less productive. A cow in Nigeria would produce a 10th to a 20th of the amount of milk a cow here would produce. So, you have severe constraints on productivity that limits the supply, which drives up the prices.
So, we work on all these issues. We work on increasing productivity so that we have higher yields. I can tell you some of the things that we've been doing to increase productivity. We work on food safety, reducing pathogens, also work on diseases. Some of those diseases will prevent the animals from producing growing as fast as they can or as optimally, optimally as they, as they could, that also constrains the food supply. So, if we can address the disease issues, we have more healthy animals. We have more food. And we reduce this problem of hidden hunger.
We also work on diseases that are out there in Africa and Asia that have not got here yet. And so we're trying to contain the diseases. For instance, we, we’re working on a viral disease of deer, sheep or goats in Kenya and Uganda, which we don't have in the U.S. And we were field testing a thermo-stable vaccine. In the rural areas of many of these countries, they don't have refrigeration like we do here. They have in the cities. But in the rural areas it's not as common. And so having a thermo-stable vaccine that doesn't require a cold chain can be a game changer in terms of preserving the integrity of the vaccine, getting it into really far-flung rural areas. So that's another example of one of the projects we were working on.
When I think -- that's a great example of something that also benefits us here. If we can help eliminate or at least control a disease that hasn't come here yet, we can prevent it as well as helping them -- I don't know if eradicate is the goal I don't know that much about it -- but, you know, at least control it or at least understand how to manage it before it gets here to the U.S. as well.
Yeah. Yes. Another area that we work on that could also be beneficial for us here in Florida is that we look at traits, whether it's for plants, for fodder, for animals. So, for instance, heat stress is a huge problem for Florida agriculture, for our crops and for our livestock, and it reduces their productivity. And by working in some of these foreign countries, we discover some traits that can make livestock, for instance, much more resilient under heat stress. Some of those things are what we can bring back and help to make our livestock system here in the States much more resilient in the face of hot summers. That's one more example.
These are, these are great examples. So, something that I've heard said here working at UF/IFAS is that we use the extension model to fight hunger worldwide, worldwide, or the institute uses the Extension model. Can you break that down for us a bit and how you're doing that and what you mean when we say, we, we're using the Extension model to do that?
So, you know, I travel very widely and I lived in Britain for ten years before I got here. And so I've seen universities, worked at universities across the world. I visited very many, but I don't think there is any other system I have seen that is as good as the U.S. land grant system for seamlessly conveying research information to producers and conveying that the challenges producers face via Extension agents and specialists backto researchers who find solutions. And these solutions are shared in most of the countries in Africa and Asia where we work, and even in Latin America, they don't have this system. They have very siloed systems. Extension is under the Ministry of Agriculture and in many cases, they don't have rapport and frequent interactions with the researchers.
Oh wow, okay.
So what we have been doing is bringing Extension people and research people together with producers. So it's something we take for granted here because it's been happening here for decades. It's a huge win for people in these countries who are in the same industry, but they never sit down together to discuss. So we're bringing them together and having really animated discussions. And for the first time, they're able to break down some of the walls. I'm not saying that we're solving everything, not by a long shot. But when you have different minds looking at the problem from different perspectives, it helps to break down the walls in a much more long-lasting manner. So we're bringing in the government, the private sector, the Extension, and the researchers together working with them to foster solutions to long held challenges. And we're learning, taking all of that from what we've learned about the land grant system here. And so that's been a tremendous asset that we're sharing with the rest of the world.
That's interesting. And I think sometimes that we see this, even though we are really intertwined. You know, UF/IFAS Extension, education and research. We still see sometimes maybe research outcomes where then Extension give us feedback about, well, research is correct and accurate, but how do we implement this, right? That'll never work in a conventional farming system or well, it'll work for these guys, but not these growers. Right. So Extension allows us that application piece that takes that research to the grower farmer community, whomever, and then helps us make sure we can appropriately and financially apply it. So that's that's that's fascinating. And it's interesting that, you know, it's a system that we are a little, you know, we're fortunate, maybe a little spoiled here in Florida especially. We have such a strong Extension and research and education relationship that we just maybe assume is happening, happening elsewhere because we're used to it here.
Yeah, you're absolutely right. And one thing that in some context is forgotten is how much knowledge and wisdom the producers themselves have. And it's so vital to involve them in the planning of the research and strategizing. And so that's something I learned here and in other places, just listening to producers. And there's so much that you learn and informs your research and you do it in a different way because sometimes we have an idea and we're very focused on our particular discipline. And then you hear of something that's tangential or something practical that makes you a wonderful idea, not quite as relevant to what you're working on. So it's phenomenal to work with producers here in the state of Florida and also in these other countries.
It's fascinating. So you've mentioned so many different areas that you guys work in food safety, livestock. But explain the breadth of the Global Food Systems Institute and help summarize how just how much you guys cover.
So we're very privileged to be just one of the units of IFAS, you know, IFAS is huge. And the capacity within IFAS is just amazing. We are one unit in IFAS which has 18 schools. It has 16 research and education centers and county offices in all of Florida, 67 counties. And what we get to do, the privilege we have in the institute, is that we work with all of these units. And so we have specialists not just in the livestock area, but in crops, in aquaculture and seafood. Staple crops to fruits, vegetables, nuts, all the variety of commodity crops that we have in the state. And one huge advantage that we have in Florida is that our subtropical environment gives us an edge over virtually every other institution, maybe except for Hawaii. And Hawaii is much smaller than we are. And so we have a privilege of sharing information that we have gleaned over the decades. And this information is very, very relevant to many, many contexts across Africa, Latin America and Asia. So we have we also have experts who are who work on socio cultural issues, issues with everything from caste systems in South Asia to religion, and how that impacts on food consumption because there are some religion based taboos, gender issues. So we have experts in all these areas who can help us to develop long, long standing, truly sustainable solutions to challenges with food systems.
Right, because I think you've you've shared that it's much more complex than giving, you know, a community some chickens. Right? There's so much more to it. Will they eat the eggs? Do they know how to feed the chickens? Or even, I think about in some places you have to think about predation on the chickens. Right, can we keep our chickens alive? You know, so there's just so many aspects to this that we may not always think about. It's a much more complicated issue. And so it's exciting to see so many, you know, the all the variety of UF/IFAS experts that help contribute to the Global Food Systems Institute.
It's really vital. In Burkina Faso, we had a project that worked with a tribe that don't usually consume eggs. Certainly their children don't consume eggs. And my colleague, Dr. Sarah McKeown, who led the project, they were able to get children from eating zero eggs a week to eating six eggs a week within a year. They did that by helping them, just like you are talking about Tory, from helping them understand the importance of eggs in their diet, helping them with poultry nutrition, helping them overcome some, you know, taboos in the culture about egg consumption. And what they did was they had these groups of women who would meet and they would teach them and they would sing songs together about how vital eggs are in the diet. And by the end of the study, the infants who were in the group that was receiving the intervention. They were eating successfully, but what we were most pleased about is that the level of wasting which is linked to child mortality hardly correlated with child mortality was statistically reduced. So we probably saved some lives in that study. And now we're working with the government and not just in our country to try and look for ways to scale that study, that that approach. And it was very interesting because the women who were involved refused when the husbands wanted them to start selling eggs. And they said no. These are contexts in which women are not seen as equals to men but the women put their feet down. And said we can see the improvement in the health, in the well-being, the growth of our child. We must continue. And and what was most gratifying is that when we finished the study, some of these families were by themselves buying chicken. So we gave them three at the beginning. Ask them to add one more. By the end of the study, they were buying more. And I was saying, You need to share this information with people in other dimensions.
That's incredible. It gave me goosebumps. It's because it is it's truly it's it's an entire mindset shift. And it's just it's there's so much to to teach and educate on. But they're eager and they you know, these people they need they need the support. So that's that's really inspiring story. Thank you for sharing that with us.
So one on one tiny little bit that that just really gives me so much joy, you know, at the beginning of the pandemic. Sarah McEwan's daughter, Matilda, was born, and so one of our older colleagues, Sandra Russo, worked with Matilda and said, I want to write a story. Based on your mom's study. And Matilde was about nine years old at the time, and she wrote this book titled One Egg, and she wrote out the whole story. And now it's been translated into different African languages, is being handed out to young girls to teach them about diets and how they can become more healthy. So it just, you know, that's that's something that just brings me so much joy. As a spinoff of work.
That's cool. That's awesome. That's such a neat tidbit. So talk about why this is so important right now. Why is the food, the work that you're doing in the Food Institute important today, tomorrow and beyond?
Yeah, we live in a very sobering period at the moment, so we've just hopefully come through the worst of COVID and hopefully that's all behind us. But it has left its scars. But when we think about COVID as a result of COVID. Hunger has increased around the world. Hidden hunger has increased. So over a hundred million people more faced hunger in 2020 versus 2019. And the the increase in global food insecurity in 2020 was equal to that of 2015 to 2019 combined. So when we go around, we know that we can go to our supermarkets and see food prices increasing in the developing world. Those increases in food prices are also happening at the same time as they're having terrible droughts, record breaking droughts, record breaking floods. You know, a huge portion of Pakistan and my native Nigeria were underwater. And so people are desperate for solutions. There's a huge need for help to devise more resilient food systems. In Kenya just yesterday, I was reading a statement that the news article title was All the Animals are Dead, not in the whole country, but in the drought-stricken areas. So there is the pandemic, the war in Ukraine. We have created this global crisis. We're very fortunate to live here in the US, but I think it's our obligation and it’s a privilege to also do what we can to help people in those contexts.
I don't think again, I know we talked a lot about you of UF/IFAS as as a whole, hunger in our communities during COVID. But I don't think we always realize the after effects. Right? We think maybe once it's over, it'll get better. We're through it. Right. But it's that's not always the case. There's always a ripple effect, so to speak.
All right. So as we wrap up, I want to hear from you. I mean, you shared some really inspirational stories, so this answer might come obvious, but what inspires you or makes you really proud to work at UF/IFAS, specifically on these hunger related issues.
So I'm very grateful for an exceptional faculty team, exceptional staff team that work with us on these issues. We've had some superb students who've worked with us. I'm very grateful for the support of our administrative and fiscal staff who work behind the scenes to support us and allow us to do what we do. What I'm most proud of is the impacts. I was in Nepal some months ago and I asked a lady who was on a project that one of your faculty talked of contemplating that, and she was using distance education to train women in rural areas to become community animal health workers because they can't afford the time to go to the government training centers. They can't be away from their families. And with Connors method, 24% more women pass the exam. Wow. And so I met one of these women on my last trip, and I said, How did that help you? She said, "My income increased 3 to 4 fold.”
And now she's leading a cooperative of 1400 women, one of the leaders. So that just blows my mind. Another the thing we did in in West Africa, in the country of Nigeria, where we had livestock keepers who are complaining that they didn't have feed for their animals, the feed was too expensive. And then they had feed producers who are about 600 miles away looking for a market. And through our research, we discovered that this was a problem and we linked them and the food producers started bringing the food this long distance. It wasn't done before. And so within about three months, over 12 tons of feed was supplied to the livestock feed in this village. Suddenly, the animals were growing big. And I remember one particular woman who said she was able to sell her goats for 30% more than she could before. Well, that means a more nutritious meal on the table. That means that she's able to help a child to go to school and those types of things. Think about our research. UF IFAS research is having those kinds of impacts in addition to the wonderful things we're doing across the state of Florida. Gives me a lot of joy.
Yeah. I don't know how it wouldn't. That's incredible. So before we go, what is one thing that you wish people knew about these global food issues? So if they forgot everything else we shared today, what is your one key takeaway you want them to remember?
I think the biggest takeaway is the issue of hidden hunger. I mentioned that stunting has a nutritional base. It's not nutrition alone, it's poor hygiene and a number of other factors. But hidden hunger is real. It's not as evident as obvious hunger, but it can have just as devastating effects. As I mentioned, what is so insidious about it is that the effects are there and they can last a lifetime. So if you have that critical 1,000 day window to influence a child's development, not just physically, but cognitive and the nutrients, the diversity of the diet in most of the rural areas of the developing world, children are vegetarians, not by choice. But because their families can't afford or access these nutrient dense foods. So if people are more aware of that and can get involved in efforts to whatever they can do, whether it's advocacy or supporting organizations that help with creating a more diverse and more nutrient rich diet, livestock products are the best form of nutrition for those cases. Both fruits and vegetables, nuts are vital too because what they subsist on is staples, and they don't understand how vitally important these nutrients are for the well-being.
Ah, yeah, that's that's great. And it made me think of something. So for those that are inspired by listening to this or maybe want to help in their own communities, is hidden hunger an issue here in the United States as well?
It is. So we have parts of the US, parts of Florida, so Gainesville that we call food deserts, some places where within I don't know, a certain radius, there isn't a grocery store that sells, you know, things like fresh meat or you might not be able to get frozen meats or milk or things like that cheese, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables. And so that's a problem because people in those areas cannot access the important sources of nutrients that will enrich their diets. So this is not just a global problem. It's a problem for us here as well. We need to figure out solutions so that our neighbors here in Gainesville and the state of Florida can have more diverse, diverse diets that include you know, the livestock products, the fruits and vegetables and nuts, as well as the staples. So it's it's an issue for us to address here as well as globally.
Right, right. Well well, I'll be sure in the show notes to include some links not just to the Global Food Systems Institute, but to some resources that I know you guys have developed to educate on these topics as well for people that are interested in learning more. But thank you so much for your time today and sharing these incredible, impactful stories. I really appreciate your time.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Tory. Appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
Thank you. So next up on this podcast episode, I'll chat with UF IFAS VP, Dr. Scott Angle.
*music and break*
So for part two of today's podcast, we're going to chat with Dr. Angle, the UF IFAS Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Dr. Angle is at the helm of UF/IFAS and leads more than 2000 employees that work across 67 Florida counties. He has extensive knowledge and hunger related issues both globally and locally, and has seen firsthand the impacts of hunger on communities. His passion for finding solutions that improve lives is obvious, and I'm really excited for listeners to hear from him. Thank you again, Dr. Angle, for joining us on the podcast today.
Glad to be with you. Look forward to it.
Wonderful. So based on our conversation with Dr. Adesogan, we know that hunger is a global issue and we know that UF IFAS works on hunger related issues that impact Florida, the nation and the world. But why is working beyond our state so important?
Yeah, and that's a question that many people ask. Even our own farmers in the state of Florida sometimes ask that question. And there are three reasons that I always provide. The first is that I think we have a basic moral obligation to grow food when there are hungry people in this world. But I've had the unique opportunity to live overseas in countries where hunger was an issue. I've certainly visited most of the hungry areas around the world, and I've seen hunger firsthand and the devastation that it causes to both a single human at the individual level as well as the community and country. There are all kinds of reasons why we don't want countries to be, to go hungry. Our own national security might be one of them, for example. We are blessed here in Florida. We have the unique opportunity to be able to grow a lot of food. We have a good climate. We have certainly good supplies of water. We have a reasonably good labor force to plant and harvest the foods that we can grow. And so when we can produce more food and when there are hungry people who need that, I think we simply have to do the right thing. We have to step up as a industry, as a state, and grow food for people who so desperately need it. Now, secondly, we don't give away this food either. It is sold. There are a number of markets and a number of avenues that allow food to be moved globally now. So we sell these foods into marketplaces here in the United States. And ultimately, either they or there's there's trading mechanisms. Ultimately, more food ends up in the places that need it. So it is building the economy of the state of Florida as well, and certainly supporting agriculture as our continued and second largest industry in the state. And then third, when you work in these countries overseas, you bring home with you a lot of expertise, capacity, understanding, knowledge. We don't have all the answers in the United States anymore. And while many of these countries are still relatively poor and still and still developing, some of them have good universities with lots of very smart people in them. And we have found that by working with people with more diverse backgrounds who may understand these problems more intimately than we do because they live it, we don't. We find that solutions now are not just here in the United States, but they come from overseas as well. So we make our own programs better. We make agriculture better in Florida by bringing in smart people, good ideas into the state of Florida. And lastly, I just want to reiterate again that hunger is a security issue for the United States. When people are hungry, bad things happen. And we've seen this time and time and time again over the course of history. But when you're hungry, you become desperate. You probably many of the listeners have heard this before, but when you're hungry, you only have one problem. We have you know, I have you have many problems in your life that we worry about. But when you're hungry, you only think about one thing, and that is where your next meal is coming from. And if you don't know where that meal is coming from, then desperation results from that. And that's when there's more terrorism that can be exported to the United States. That's when people suffer in those countries and we have to provide more free aid in some cases because there simply is no economy to purchase foods for for hungry people. So we have our own national self-interest all rolled up into this as well.
And I think that that is something that I've heard before working for UF/IFAS but before, I never, ever thought of that or been aware of that. And I think that's something that maybe listeners haven't connected and maybe are aware of. So you mentioned that poverty is bad for us all. And of course, my answer to that is obviously yes, it is. The emotional piece of that speaks to me and I feel great empathy for those struggling with hunger. Can you explain the difference between what's causing and driving hunger globally versus here in the U.S.?
Hunger in some areas of the world, and they're scattered all over the globe, Africa, there's some in the Caribbean, some in Central America, some in Southeast Asia. That insidious form of hunger is what we traditionally think about as someone being hungry. Not enough protein, not enough nutrients, not enough vitamins, and all of the stunting issues that come along with that, that's that's kind of classic hunger. But even here in the United States, we still have hunger. It's a different type of hunger. It's eating inappropriate foods. It's not getting enough vitamins and nutrients, but there are always enough calories anywhere in the United States. And so that's why our hunger here in the U.S. can look different. It can be through obesity or sometimes micronutrient deficiencies leading to disease. So we got plenty of food in the United States. Our farmers grow an abundance of food more than we need. We export quite a bit. But it's individual decisions. Sometimes these are community issues that are getting the right food to the right people at the right time is not what it needs to be. We can get enough calories there, but sometimes just not enough of the nutrition that you need to prevent some of these problems.
Right. And UF/IFAS does work in that arena as well, nutrition education, helping people understand not all calories are created equal. Right. How to eat best for health and growth as well.
Yeah, that's I love that phrase. Not all calories are created equal because that's absolutely true. We want to eat foods that are rich and dense. We now use the word dense and nutrients, but rich in nutrients versus just a lot of empty calories. Empty calories are cheap, they're abundant, they're available, and many of them taste good. Whereas the more complex foods, they're more expensive sometimes are more difficult to find. Certainly in some communities, some of our lower income communities simply don't have access to enough of these high, what I would call high quality food that are nutrition packed. So getting, you know, getting the right food to the right people at the right time is it's a very complex, complex issue. And we don't always get it right in the United States either.
So I'd love to also revisit or dig a little bit deeper into the solutions piece of what we can learn from others and maybe talk about a couple of things that UF/IFAS is working with people across the world to bring solutions here back to Florida. Maybe some examples.
Well, first of all, a lot of these places around the world where hunger still exists are tropical or subtropical. And so much of the research capacity, the education and capacity, extension capacity, United States is inappropriate for many of the areas where around the world where hunger still exists. We have that in Florida. We've got a tropical zone. And essentially in the Homestead area, most of the state is actually subtropical. So a lot of the things that we can do or other technologies that we can develop, model, explore, exploit here in Florida are transferable to those areas around the world where that type of help is needed. Now, there are some other land grant schools that work in tropical regions or some in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, but none of them have the gravitas and the capacity that IFAS does. We are by far the largest college of agriculture in the United States, and we are the college that is most capable of working in these regions where hunger is most prevalent. So we're very unique in our ability to provide service and to provide that help that is needed. I want to give you a couple examples of of how this is all playing out. There's three ingredients for producing more food. You need water and you need to control through either chemistry or human labor. You need to control the diseases and the insects and the weeds, and you need good plant genetics. So genetics of plants that allow for abundant production of fruits or vegetables or grains or even the growth rate of animals. So we do an awful lot of animal and plant breeding here in IFAS for plants that will do well under tropical and subtropical conditions. We develop many, many, many varieties of crops that do that do well around the world. Our plant breeding program, which by the way, is a number one plant breeding program in the United States, It is very much targeted and very much appreciated by these countries around the world because they know that what we're doing will fit within their agricultural development model. We're developing new technologies. How do you apply fertilizers more efficiently? We're producing more fertilizers that are more efficiently used and have less impact on the environment, but also increase crop growth. And one of the main things we're doing right now is that we are using artificial intelligence to drive all of this. That's been a significant and very important initiative here at the University of Florida. It is now the largest agricultural A.I. artificial intelligence program in the world, not just the United States. We've got more capacity here than anywhere else. And why that's so important, it allows us to make better decisions using that technology than we can make without it. There's so much data in the world now that humans can't make sense of it. There's just too much for whether it's in the plant breeding area or fertilizer efficiency. There's so much information that no human has the capacity to learn all of it, sift through it, find the patterns, and then make recommendations or decisions from that. But the A.I. supercomputer can do that. So the University of Florida has the fastest academic supercomputer in the world right now. A gift from Nvidia. We've hired over 100 new. Faculty, a large number of them have been in the agricultural area or agriculture like areas. And so with the inherent capacity of understanding tropical agriculture, we're now applying artificial intelligence to make much better decisions. So it's going to speed up the entire process. What we're trying to do, we're trying to make Florida where the high tech companies want to come so they will bring their companies, they will hire Floridians to work in these high tech jobs. It will grow the economy of Florida and it will help agriculture at the same time, both here in Florida and elsewhere. So it's as I said, it's helping others to alleviate global hunger, but it's also going to grow the economy of Florida.
Meeting that challenge to help fight hunger seems like a really steep challenge. So is AI and technology the key to doing that? Is that including plant breeding?
So here's the conundrum and now I'm talking more globally. Almost by the year 2050. We need 70%, maybe 100% more food than we have today. So we have to grow more food, but we have no more water on this planet. In fact, we're going to have less water for agriculture because cities, industries, they get the water first and we have no more land. In fact, we're probably going have less land, you know, more people just like here in Florida, more farms are sold and put into the what we call the final crop, which is a house. So we're going to have less land, so less water, less land, and we have to double food production. How are you going to do that? Through good technology, better plant genetics, more efficient use of our resources, robotics, drones, these things are all being driven by artificial intelligence. Let me speak to robots just as an example of that. We've had robots for 50 years that can pick an apple. They've never been widely adapted. We certainly have not had robots that can pick a peach because that's a more fragile crop. How tightly do you grab that peach without squishing it, bruising it, don't grab it tight enough. Then it drops out of the claw, the robotic hand. The same thing would apply to strawberries, for example, in Plant City, it's a very delicate crop and is a strawberry ripe for picking? You know, you look at a strawberry and it's of course it's ripe or is it not ripe? It's easy, but not so much for a robotic guy and a computer. That's a very, very hard question.
And unlike other crops, strawberries have to be picked ripe, because they don't ripen after being picked. Right. So the robot has to be able to look at a bush, pick only the ripe fruit and leave the rest.
Right. And they don't ripen all at once either. So you gotta run over that field, would send workers over that field several times, right? So that's a that's it's a difficult thing. So the robotic mechanics have always been there, but it's been a processing power of look at that strawberry within a nanosecond. Is it ripe? And then how tightly do you grab that strawberry to pull it back and pick it and pull it into a bin. Very, very difficult questions. We could not do that until literally the last five years. And it's all being driven by artificial intelligence. So that computer robot will look at that strawberry, compare it to a data set of millions of other strawberries, and it has to pixelate it and digitize it, and then break that down, analyze the color of it, and then determine whether or not it's ripte. And it has to happen in real time, just like you or I would look at it in real time and know instantly. So that is now here. And so what we are doing now, when we want UF/IFAS to lead the way and with a I think we certainly will, we want to start marrying up these robots with artificial intelligence. So it's not just to pick strawberries or peaches or oranges are a little bit easier, but it's spraying with spraying for weeds. We're developing systems at our research and education center where a spray rig will drive through a field to spray weeds. But what it's going to do is it's going to look at every plant in that field and it will decide in real time, is that a weed or is that the crop that we're trying to protect? And it will only spray the weeds and then when it looks at the weed, it will immediately determine what kind of weed it is. And it may spray one of several different kinds of herbicides. Some herbicides work better on one weed than another. Right now we just spray the whole field, we spray the crop plants, we spray all the weeds with one material and it it wastes obviously it wastes most of that material. It's expensive, environmental exposure. It's an insecticide. You're getting more non-target damage to pollinator bees, for example. We want to get away from that. We think we can reduce herbicide use by 75 to 90%, going to save the farmer an incredible amount of money. It's going to protect the environment. It's going to have less residue on the crops that are being picked. So now the FDA and USDA will be fabulously happy with this new technology and actually it's going to be pretty cheap. We think about technology as always been more expensive, but when you are out there in the traditional way of spraying with a giant spray rig and a huge tractor using up vast amounts of diesel fuel, that's that's expensive. These are going to be much smaller machines that will run autonomously through the field. They're much cheaper. They can run 24/7, so you'll just turn them loose in your field and they'll go up and down the rows. They can work at night if the you know, if you need to be out there in the field doing other things. So they'll be cheaper to use, they'll use fewer chemicals, less impact on the environment, the farmer is going to make more money. So everyone is happy with this type of technology, but it's only been in the last five years that artificial intelligence has finally allowed the robots to actually get in the field and start working hard.
You've shared a lot of really impactful stories today and definitely have me thinking a lot about this issue. But what inspires you or makes you proud to work for UF/IFAS specific on these hunger related issues.
I think the University of Florida, IFAS in particular, are unique among all land grant universities, all agricultural universities in the United States and to a large extent around the world has the ability to reduce human suffering globally. We can do more than others. And so that when you can do more, you know, we're blessed in Florida. There's for many reasons, when you can do more, you should do more. You almost have a moral requirement to do that. But being here in a state that has we have good support from the state government, from the governor's office, from our legislature. We have incredible students. We have unbelievable faculty and staff here at the University of Florida. This is a place that has more gravitas, more ability to make these changes around the world than anywhere else I've ever worked. And I have run large NGOs and I have run large government agencies, and none of them have had the impact globally that the University of Florida, and IFAS in particular has. So that's why I wanted to come here. I you know, I before I arrived here, I was running agricultural research for the United States, working for the secretary of agriculture. But when I saw this position, I knew that this was a place that could have a profound impact on what happens around the rest of the world. And I had. Having also lived and worked in Africa, I knew very intimately what some of those needs were and how IFAS could be a part of it. So we're growing our programs internationally. Dr. Gbola, who you have heard from already, he is leading up a lot of our international program work to grow it, to expand our influence around around the world, to help us continue and to make more of a difference globally than we have in the past. So it's a place where more can be done than anywhere else I've seen. And that's why I want to be here.
So much potential. That's an excellent answer. It makes me proud to work here. I am every day, but I hear stories like this and it's inspiring. So before we go, what is one thing that you wish people knew about these issues? So if they forget everything else we talked about today, what do you want them to remember?
We've talked a lot today about global issues, how IFAS can be a cause for good around the world. How the world's some of the world's problems will be less significant because of what we are doing here in Gainesville and around the rest of the state where we have our facilities. But as much as all of that, this is the number one thing I think is incredible about IFAS. We're solving global problems, but we are making a state of Florida better as well. We are improving the economy. We are helping our farmers grow more food with less input. We're growing more timber. We're helping our our fishermen and women develop a safer and more effective ways to manage fisheries in this state. I don't think there's any organization in the world that can do both the way IFAS does. We are helping Florida in a way that makes us a very powerful contributor to our economy, improving our environment, lifting up families through 4-H, we're around the rest of the world too, making and helping people that need support through advanced technologies. Providing those as well. And I said earlier that I think IFAS and UF are the top program in the country for helping global citizens have a better life. But what is so astounding to me, we are doing the same thing here in Florida, too. And it's because we're big, it's because we're strong, and it's because we have such great people working here that we can, w can take care of Florida and make this a better place to be, but also be proud of the fact that our impact around the rest of the world is just as positive.
Well, thank you so much, Dr. Angle, for coming on the show today. That's it for today's episode of The Food is Our Middle Name podcast. To learn more about food issues around the world and how the University of Florida is tackling them, visit the resources section of this episode. I hope you enjoyed Season One of the Food is Our Middle Name podcast.