The Sustainability Question
According to the United Nations 2019 State of Food
Security and Nutrition in the World report, the number of
undernourished people in the world has been on the rise since
2015. There are currently about 7. 7 billion people on the planet,
and more than 820 million are hungry. According to UN
statistics, the global population will reach about 9. 7 billion by
2050 and 11 billion by 2100. If people are hungry now, what
will it be like then?
Most people see it as a serious math problem—there
is already a global food shortage, and unless we make some
changes, more people will be hungry. The choices we make now
about water use, soil health, transportation and emissions, and
waste management will affect our future and that of the growing population in a profound way. The ultimate goal is to meet
the needs of today without compromising future generations.
It’s not only important to bring the next generation into
this conversation, it’s imperative—and agricultural education
is a vital avenue to teach students how to approach these
issues and prepare them for success. Ag education shows
students how to understand the issues so they can challenge
them appropriately, innovatively, and articulately.
Tomorrow’s leaders need to understand the importance
of sustainability and its role in food production. The more our
future leaders see that everything comes from somewhere,
everything has a cost, and that every choice has an effect, the
better they will be able to make strong decisions that create
balance and solve challenges in a healthier world.
To learn more about agricultural education or the Texas
FFA, visit texasffa.org.H
Justin Ransom, PhD, senior director of Sustainable Food Policy at
Tyson Foods, is a member of the Texas FFA Board of Directors.
The Supply Chain
Why should students understand supply chain?
Food comes from the grocery store, right? Not quite.
Agricultural education students learn that food doesn’t come
from a box, but that there is a long path from the farm to
table—one that involves various workers, technologies,
marketers, retailers, equipment, and resources.
Consider the tomato again. Who are the people who
brought it to the shelf, and who will handle it if it isn’t consumed? There are tomato growers and farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, and even waste managers. That
one tomato in your hand represents dozens of people, each
with an important role to play.
Food supply chains are complex and intricate, and most
consumers don’t have a clue where their food actually comes
from. Agricultural education teaches students about the real-ities of food production, food safety, and the work that goes
into converting a seed into the food on their kitchen tables.
When these students step into the workforce, they are ahead
of their peers in industrial knowledge.
Today’s students will be the ones making the big decisions tomorrow, with a bigger world population than ever
before, and it’s essential that they learn how to see the big
picture and analyze information in a way that works for
the good of everyone. Business strategies are beginning to
be shaped by not simply maintaining the bottom line but
finding new ways to engineer smarter sustainability in the
process. The supply chain is a big part of that, and these students will be the ultimate decision makers, whether they are
buying food for their families, working for a food company,
or drafting legislation.
Data and What It Means
Part of why I love my job is because I get to work with
people who have vastly different perspectives. I work with
passionate environmentalists one day and traditional and
generational farmers the next. Everyone’s perspective has
value, and it’s my job to listen to everyone, then find strategies
that work for all.
Today, we have access to more data than any other time
in human history. However, this can be a double-edged sword.
On one hand, we can find data covering any topic and from
any source, but most of us don’t know how to ask the right
questions to weigh that data. Anyone can find a number to
support his or her argument or idea with a few clicks, but not
as many people think about which organization sponsored the
research, which resources were used to source the data, and
the goals and politics of the organizations involved.
In agricultural science education, students learn to test
information and theories with a five-step process. When students take agricultural education courses, they are encouraged
to develop a mindset that questions, measures, tests, and questions again. This is the pathway to true creative problem solving and critical thinking, and it supports the ability to reach
stronger conclusions and communicate potential solutions.