A.G. Kawamura wants to start a new dialogue about agriculture. The former California secretary of agriculture said it’s time for everyone to recognize that the clock is ticking and that people need to become more resilient when it comes to water and food security.
“When you live in a state of abundance, consumers tend to think food is a right,” he said. “Food is not a right; food is a privilege.”
Today’s abundance has led to some groups challenging the agricultural industry on issues such as water restrictions, Kawamura said during the final Heuermann Lecture of the 2016-17 season April 12 at Nebraska Innovation Campus. This conflict has made the already difficult task of feeding the world even more complex.
Kawamura shared examples of how the view of agriculture has evolved throughout history. For instance, in 1948 Israel’s food and water supply was limited, which caused the country to unite to focus on critical systems needed to survive. While the United States is not facing such extremes today, Kawamura said he thinks it’s time to rally around a common goal of water and food security like Israel did.
“Successful agriculture sustains civilization,” he said. “We don’t have to talk about what kind of agriculture it is, as long as it’s successful. That should be our focus right now.”
A third-generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, Kawamura was California’s secretary of agriculture from 2003 to 2010. He is co-chair of Solutions from the Land, a project to develop a sustainable roadmap for 21st century agricultural systems. He is also a national steering committee member of 25×25, a renewable energy coalition of farm, forest, conservation and environmental leaders focused on the contributions that can be derived from America’s agricultural and rural sectors.
As a progressive urban farmer, Kawamura has a lifetime of experience working within the shrinking rural and urban boundaries of southern California. He has stayed involved in policy areas of education, hunger and nutrition. Through his company, Orange County Produce, he is engaged in building an interactive urban agricultural exhibit at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California.
“It’s time for a global reset button,” Kawamura said. “We’re in a new age of agriculture. The pace of new knowledge and new thinking that is taking place is unbelievable.”
The current agricultural renaissance is essential to feeding a booming world population, Kawamura said. He is a supporter of the food, energy and water nexus and said he believes it is key for a resilient and sustainable future.
“Food, energy and water cannot be looked at as silos,” he said. “They have to be looked at with the idea that we’re going to create resilience.”
In addition to new technologies and new ways of thinking, education is a critical part of a successful future, Kawamura said. He said it’s incumbent on those in agriculture to lead the way in educating the public about the challenges and goals facing the world, such as feeding a projected population of 9 billion by 2050.
“We need to produce excitement and enthusiasm globally about these goals to get everybody from around the world involved in this outcome we call the future,” he said.
The lecture was held in conjunction with the eighth annual Water for Food Global Conference, which examined the work being done to ensure water and food security from local to global scales.
The Heuermann Lecture series focuses on providing and sustaining enough food, natural resources and renewable energy for the world’s people, along with securing the sustainability of rural communities, where the vital work of producing food and renewable energy occurs. The lectures are funded by a gift from B. Keith and Norma Heuermann of Phillips. The Heuermanns are longtime university supporters with a strong commitment to Nebraska’s production agriculture, natural resources, rural areas and people.