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The Food and the Environment Initiative seeks to develop practical solutions to the great environmental challenge of feeding a projected global population of 10 billion people by 2050. The scale and complexity of this problem encompasses issues related to the demand for arable land, limited water supplies, nutrient and pollution management, soil-carbon dynamics, the loss of biodiversity, and the acceleration of climate change.

Research and teaching activities under this initiative seek to address these problems by focusing on topics such as nutrient cycling and soil biogeochemistry; the conservation, sanitation and delivery of water; the prevention of greenhouse gas emissions; the preservation and promotion of biodiversity; and balancing land use between food production and other uses, including biofuels.

An especially important part of Food and the Environment is to examine carbon cycling in soils, which has potentially important impacts on climate change. New strategies to increase carbon uptake in carbon-depleted soils may provide an important option for reducing the severity and progression of climate change.

Another critical priority is the sustainable use and protection of water, which is essential to all agricultural systems. Agriculture accounts for the largest consumptive use of water in the United States and globally. The use of water for irrigation — and its contamination due to nutrient and pesticide inputs — are urgent global issues.

Approaches to better integrate water into overall food production include systems-level analyses built around crop-planting strategies, irrigation and energy. This would allow for the design of agricultural systems that are robust and resilient in the face of hydroclimatic variability, including the increased risk of drought and water scarcity.