US's Vilsack says science can help overcome hunger

KANSAS CITY, Mo., April 7 (Reuters) - Developing countries must embrace new technologies for agriculture in order to address a growing global food crisis, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday.

Improved seeds for crops that are more drought or disease tolerant, improved irrigation systems and strategies, and other evolving agricultural production technologies could help struggling nations produce more food, Vilsack said.

Overcoming resistance to these new technologies, including genetically modified crops, is key, according to Vilsack.

"Science is important. I don't know of another country that is doing as much as the United States," Vilsack said in a press conference following a speech at the International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City. Still, the United States must do more to convince other countries to accept new technologies for agriculture, he said.

"That is a major problem right now," he said.

Vilsack is slated to lead a U.S. delegation to a G8 meeting with agriculture leaders from Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Russia April 18-20 to talk about ways to improve global food security.

A report issued by the Italian presidency ahead of the meeting warned that global food production must double by 2050 to avert risks of international political instability, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

Vilsack said that population growth and climate change made improving agricultural productivity critical.

"We will constantly be challenged as world populations grow," Vilsack said. "The amount of land capable of producing food is not going to grow. With growing communities -- expanding communities -- it may actually shrink.

"That dynamic will always constantly challenge us to figure out ways to produce enough food and enough nutrition for people to be cared for," Vilsack said.

Last year, the world saw a global food crisis tied to a spike in food prices. The ranks of the hungry grew by 115 million people over 2007-2008, bringing the total who need food assistance globally to 963 million at the end of 2008, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Food prices have come down from last year, but the food crisis is continuing amid this year's global economic downturn.

Vilsack announced Tuesday that the United States will spend an additional $80 million in funding for four projects to feed 655,000 children in Africa. The funding comes on top of $95.5 million allocated in December and is to be spent this fiscal year, officials said. (Reporting by Carey Gillam)