Every day, there are news articles and media segments that speak about rising food prices. Some argue that the crisis is caused by climate change, some by the interest in biofuels, some by inadequate public policy and food tariffs in the developed world, some by rising energy costs, and some by the need to pay the costs of the producing food by the farmer more adequately. There are people who suggest that food shortage is caused by disease and pestilence or by purchasing power of emerging economies: people in these emerging markets simply have the resources to be able to purchase more food or buy more food of higher quality.
I attended a Toronto conference on the causes and consequences of rising food costs. Economists and food and agriculture experts on the panel agreed that there are multiple causes of the rising food prices and that those costs will continue to climb along with rising costs of energy and other commodities. For more vulnerable members of society who spend a greater portion of their incomes on such basics as food and shelter, those increases are frightening.
We need to take action.
The conference called for greater government and private sector investment but they also indicated that few universities have the capacity and the record to be able to respond to these challenges.
It is heartening to know that the provincial government recognized the challenges ahead and earlier this year when they made an outstanding investment in the University of Guelph. The partnership agreement with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs was renewed for ten years. More importantly, funding was guaranteed for the first five years of that agreement. The new level of funding is almost 40% per year higher than the previous contract. This is an important beginning.
For nearly 150 years, the University of Guelph has demonstrated leadership in research related to environmental sustainability, public health, food quality and assurance and food supplies, as well as the protection of water and land resources and the animals that contribute to the food chains or live in the natural environment.
We have used this knowledge to develop innovative ways to change and improve lives all around the world. The University of Guelph has become the helping hand that links together the aspirations of people in need and the solutions that make all the difference.
But partnership should not simply be between the government and the university. We need industry and the private sector to be involved in funding and promoting basic and applied research. We need to involve more companies in the innovation agenda for Ontario, Canada and the rest of the world.
Over the next several months, as we continue to debate in public the change in world food prices and other contentious issues such as climate change, the threats of pandemics, poverty and the challenges to the communities and qualities of life that we now expect. The University of Guelph will continue to promote the ways in which we can help.
The world is at a critical point, and the University of Guelph is uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution.