The University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) has announced the creation of the Food Systems Institute, which will bring together the university’s top researchers to find solutions to feeding the world in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable.
“This institute brings together global engagement with what we call systems thinking — addressing world hunger by researching how every part of the field-to-fork process affects every other part. It’s a search for how to deliver the most abundant, nutritious and affordable food possible for the greatest number of people,” said Jack Payne, who recently retired as the University of Florida senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of IFAS.
The new Food Systems Institute will combine two initiatives — the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems — including faculty and projects associated with each.
“The complexity of the challenge has come home in a tangible way during the pandemic, with the seemingly contradictory phenomena of farmers plowing under their crops for lack of markets while food banks are overwhelmed by the hungry,” Payne said.
The new Food Systems Institute will be led by Adegbola Adesogan, professor of ruminant nutrition in the department of animal sciences and current director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, the announcement said.
“Adegbola Adesogan is a world leader in the best land-grant tradition of discovery as a two-way enterprise between scientist and citizen. He knows how to glean wisdom on real-world conditions from subsistence farmers while delivering innovation that can change the course of their lives,” Payne said. “He also skillfully leads teams of scientists from multiple disciplines, universities and nations to produce outstanding collaborative research and outreach. In addition, he understands how to communicate transparently with funders who demand accountability and impact from their investment.”
The Food Systems Institute will build on IFAS achievements in the areas of food security and sustainability, Adesogan said.
“The Food Systems Institute will leverage the stellar accomplishments, experience and systems strategy of the pre-eminent faculty in ISFS and the excellent achievements, global reputation and transdisciplinary approach of the Livestock Systems Innovation Lab faculty to develop sustainable solutions to local to global food system challenges,” Adesogan said.
Created in 2015, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems at the University of Florida has developed research, technologies and outreach initiatives to strengthen the livestock sector in eight countries — Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda and Uganda — and increase the productivity of their animals, with the ultimate goal of improving the nutrition, health, incomes and livelihoods of vulnerable people.
Also established in 2015, ISFS brought together some of the world’s leading scholars in fields such as food safety, environmental science, aquaculture, soil science, genetics and economics. This holistic approach to vast and complex food system seeks to inform policy and decision-making. In January 2020, ISFS held the first Future of Food Forum, convening scientific, industry and policy leaders from around the world.
“One additional advantage of the Food Systems Institute is that it combines the livestock, public health and nutrition and social science expertise of Innovation Lab faculty with the crops, fisheries and aquaculture, soils and systems expertise of ISFS faculty,” Adesogan added. “These faculty have an excellent track record of acquiring very large, multimillion-dollar grants from various donors for addressing pressing issues affecting food systems and publishing their findings in high-impact journals.”
One goal of the institute is to continue to widen its expertise and scope, incorporating faculty from across IFAS and the University of Florida generally to address local to global issues, Adesogan said, adding, “The aim is to grow the institute into a campus-wide institute that will be a global leader in addressing food system challenges.”