Strategic Initiatives

Institute of Global Food Systems
IFAS has launched IGFS with the aim of examining the large, systemic picture with endless combinations of factors, each with the ability to make a food system succeed or collapse.

New director James Anderson sees the world as a complex and dynamic web of international trade, markets, regulatory institutions, diverse cultures and values, technology, environmental and biophysical interactions.

As the former leader of the global program on fisheries and aquaculture at the World Bank with expertise in food and resource economics, he sees connections everywhere: “When you eat farmed tilapia in Miami it impacts peoples’ lives and habitat in China; when the U.S. uses corn to produce ethanol to run our cars, the price of tacos in Mexico goes up; and when fisheries are depleted in Somalia and their food distribution systems fails, we end up with pirates in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.”

Additional faculty members hired for the effort are Arie Havelaar, a globally-known expert in the spread of microbial food-borne illness; and Kansas State University professor Karen Garrett, an expert in epidemiology and modeling technology impact on agricultural systems.

The research unit is expected to expand with additional hires who will work alongside existing UF faculty members already engaged in projects that mesh with the group’s goals.

UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources Jack Payne said he’s eager for the team to come together.

“Every member of the UF/IFAS faculty is well aware that our challenge is to find ways to feed the world, sustainably, amid all kinds of tough obstacles,” Payne said. “These new faculty members will help us find new, innovative ways to get there.”

The new hires are a key element of UF Preeminence, the University of Florida’s vision to become an international leader in more than two-dozen focus areas including agriculture, health, computing and education. Anderson, Havelaar and Garrett are joining more than 120 nationally recognized faculty members with expertise in those focus areas who will work to improve lives around the world.

Challenge 2050
To address the grand challenge of sustainably feeding a projected 9.6 billion people by 2050, we will need leaders and complex adaptive problem solvers who can think broadly and boldly.

Most current education and professional training systems are focused on specific disciplines, and linear thinking. We lack the systems thinking and leadership necessary for addressing the global challenges and complex problems we face.

The Challenge 2050 Project aims to develop human capacity to meet the needs associated with this population growth as resources become scarcer, the environment requires higher levels of protection, and climate change unfolds.

The University of Florida and IFAS are differentiating themselves from other institutions by bringing together interdisciplinary students, faculty, industry partners, and policy-makers to meet the needs of our dynamic societies globally.

Undergraduate students will take courses in global uncertainty, developing tools for changing the world, creating solutions, and an experience-based semester to earn the new Global Leadership and Change Certificate from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

The variety and abundance of plants, animals and insects in a given area define its environmental health. Each plays a critical part, and imbalances can lead to catastrophe — not only for the species but also for humans.

That delicate mix is what is known as biodiversity, and IFAS’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is partnering with the Florida Museum of Natural History and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to study and protect it.

 It’s another initiative under UF’s Preeminence Plan, the university’s roadmap for becoming one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities.

UF and the state of Florida are uniquely positioned to be at the vanguard of research aimed at biodiversity.

Florida’s ecosystems include more than 4,000 plant species, and the state supports the highest concentration of federally sensitive, threatened or endangered species in the country. On the other side of the equation are invasive species: More than half the plant life in South Florida is non-native, throwing that touchy balance out of whack.

The consequences of not addressing biodiversity issues could be noticeable on our dinner plates and even in our gas tanks.

SVP Payne said: “We share the planet with plants and animals on which we depend for food, fiber and fuel. Biodiversity makes us less vulnerable to the loss of those organisms as the raw materials for our lives, and it strengthens our souls by surrounding us with life in myriad forms. The web of life is incredibly complex and can’t be understood from any one perspective. UF’s reinforced expertise holds the promise of making the planet and its people healthier.”

Plant Innovation Center
The variety and abundance of plants, animals and insects in a given area define its environmental health. Each plays a critical part, and imbalances can lead to catastrophe — not only for the species but also for humans.

What started as a quest for a better-tasting tomato became a full-blown university-sanctioned research center in March 2015.

Researchers at the center breed new cultivars and conduct research to boost the taste, smell and appearance of Florida fruits, vegetables and foliage.

“The big thing is this: No other university in the country can pull off what we’ve put together here, so we are novel,” said UF environmental horticulture Professor David Clark. “We cover the whole supply chain, from the conception of an idea to the realization of a product.”

The College of Medicine, the Warrington College of Business Administration, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences all partner with IFAS and CALS in the center.

PIC faculty include sensory experts who understand how a better color or flavor affects human behavior, and they find out what people like. They work with plant scientists who find out the genetic and biochemical components of fruits and vegetables, and together they come up with the genetic recipes for new plants that people will like more and pay more to consume.

The breeders take this information and make the new varieties. Other PIC experts then figure out how best to produce the new varieties. Still others know how to get them through shipping and handling with maximum sensory appeal and how to market the varieties to the public.

 National Academy of Science members Linda Bartoshuk and Harry Klee are among the center’s leading researchers.

Field and Fork Campus Food Project
The variety and abundance of plants, animals and insects in a given area define its environmental health. Each plays a critical part, and imbalances can lead to catastrophe — not only for the species but also for humans.

An IFAS-commissioned survey found that one in 10 University of Florida students reports going hungry at times. Among students from low-income families, the hunger rate is twice that.

IFAS has recast the starving student cliché as a serious policy issue: hunger as a barrier to higher education.

Access to higher education is embedded in our land-grant mission, but we haven’t yet fully addressed the basic necessity of food. Hungry students can’t learn as well as their better-fed peers. Stress over where a next meal will come from distracts focus from studies.

The special role IFAS plays as champion of UF’s land-grant mission to democratize higher education, combined with our expertise in food and nutrition, prompted me last year to propose an on-campus food pantry.

In May 2015, campus officials from IFAS, Student Affairs, and the Office of the Chief Operating Officer gathered for a ceremony to start construction of a food pantry in a renovated chiller building in back of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Building.

The Project will also involve growing food at the UF Community Farm to stock coolers with fresh produce to go with the canned goods we make available. We’ll offer student-led classes in cooking, nutrition, and budgeting so that we don’t just slake hunger but promote self-sufficiency.

No one should have to choose between a textbook and a taco. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s also a smart thing to do from a teaching perspective. Students will be doing a lot of the teaching. Through their work in the Field and Fork Campus Food Project, students can learn about food bank operations, food safety, post-harvest handling, and other aspects of the system that connects farm to fork.

To get involved, contact Anna Prizzia at