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Guest editorial: How chemists can solve world hunger

by Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal and Jitesh Soares, ACS staff
January 21, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 3


This is a guest editorial by Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal, director of sustainable development at the American Chemical Society, and Jitesh Soares, senior director of scientific advancement at ACS.

Hunger has a major impact on a significant fraction of the world’s population: 6 million people die from starvation annually, or approximately 5–11 people per minute, according to Oxfam International. And an estimated 22% of children under 5 had stunted growth in 2020, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 2015, the UN set 17 sustainable development goals, one of which is zero hunger, which aims to improve food security and nutrition through sustainable agricultural practices.

While food scarcity has always been an unfortunate reality, there has been an alarming shift in recent years. The hunger crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and climate change—which are all converging to undermine food security worldwide. According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 by the UN, as of 2020, about 1 in 10 people worldwide experiences hunger, nearly 1 in 3 people lacks regular access to adequate food, and 149.2 million children under the age of 5 have stunted growth.

We need to identify short- and longterm solutions to world hunger. You may think that this is not a problem you, as a chemist or chemical engineer, can directly address. But the Zero Hunger Summit, the inaugural summit of the American Chemical Society Campaign for a Sustainable Future, showed that chemists and chemical engineers can and should engage in addressing this global challenge. This virtual event, held in December, provided practical ways to improve the lives of people experiencing hunger.

To address growing food shortages stemming in large part from climate change’s effects, scientists must harness plant biology and chemistry to improve crops’ resilience and monitor and improve soil environments more efficiently. We must also feed the planet without exacerbating global warming. Currently, global agriculture contributes 19–29% of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank. This contribution is likely to rise substantially unless we take rapid action to transform agricultural practices. Solutions will require approaches to minimize agriculture’s carbon footprint, minimize deforestation, and capture carbon from the atmosphere and use it. Such sustainable solutions require the development of low-carbon products to enhance plant growth and safe, effective, and biodegradable crop protection products, as well as a pivot to smart systems that allow precise nutrient delivery. Last, we must reduce food waste using innovative and safe food packaging and preservation technologies while converting unavoidable food waste to valuable products.

A key theme in the summit discussions was that innovation to address these complex challenges requires chemists and chemical engineers from every discipline to consider how their expertise can be applied to agriculture and be willing to engage across academia-industry-government boundaries. If you are interested in watching the recorded sessions of the summit, we invite you to visit the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future website at

We hope that the summit and this piece draw attention to the urgency of the food crisis while generating awareness of the many ways chemists and chemical engineers can enhance food security and sustainability. The time is now to develop and implement new solutions to solve the world hunger problem.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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