SoAR Foundation Announces a New Interim President and an Expanded Mandate

Contact: Dan Klotz, 347-307-2866 / dklotz@burness.com  

WASHINGTON, DC (May 20, 2021)—The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation today announced new leadership, with the appointment of Dr. Margaret Zeigler as Interim President, and an expanded mission. The organization, which has focused on increasing the profile and funding of competitive agricultural research in the U.S., will now work to expand the overall investment in agricultural research around the world, a key solution to the changing climate and the growing hunger crisis. 

“Hunger and hopelessness are some of the primary triggers for political instability anywhere in the world,” said Margaret Zeigler. “Political leaders ignore this at their own peril. With a sharp focus on science, we can understand how climate change will impact weather patterns, the growing seasons, water resources, even soil salinity and land degradation. Agricultural research can be pivotal and make a difference for farmers and consumers, but only if we invest more now.”

Zeigler comes to SoAR after serving as Executive Director of the Global Harvest Initiative, a collaboration of private-sector entities focused on improving agricultural productivity around the world. She also served as Deputy Director of the Congressional Hunger Center and currently sits on the Board of Directors of AG Salon, a network of over 250 leaders in domestic and international sustainable agriculture and food security.

“As we in the U.S. look hopefully towards the end of the pandemic, the food situation around the world is grim,” said John McDonnell, Board Chair of the SoAR Foundation. “With researchers forecasting a surge in global hunger and food insecurity—at the same time that climate change is tightening its grip on our planet—agricultural research must unlock the tools needed to feed the world.”

Since its inception in 2014, the SoAR Foundation has worked to raise the profile of agricultural research in general and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s flagship competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), in particular. AFRI uses a rigorous peer-reviewed process to recommend the best research projects for funding. Through SoAR and its partners’ advocacy, the program has received an additional half billion dollars over the past six years to distribute in research funding, outpacing the rest of USDA research funding.

The SoAR Foundation’s updated mission includes the improvement of agriculture around the world through an increased investment in domestic and international scientific research and innovation. Farmers everywhere—but especially the less wealthy, smallholder farmers of the global south—face a growing squeeze between the pressure to lower the carbon footprint of their operations and the need to increase production even as climate change alters growing seasons and farming conditions. 

This agricultural squeeze comes as hunger is escalating because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations reported that 20 million more people faced a “crisis” level of hunger in 2020 than in the previous year. This surge was the result of declining economic conditions, political instability and conflict, poor growing conditions, and an upswing in agricultural pests and diseases—all due in large part to a combination of the pandemic and climate change.

“The crisis we see now didn’t have to be so harsh, but agricultural research has not been a national or even an international priority,” said Alan Leshner, PhD, SoAR Foundation board member and Chief Executive Officer Emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “The Biden Administration and Congress have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest substantially in agricultural innovation through its infrastructure bill, The American Jobs Plan.”

The leadership change at the SoAR Foundation also includes the retirement on June 14, 2021 of founding President Thomas Grumbly. He will become Chairman of the SoAR Board on that date. John McDonnell said, “Tom Grumbly was selected by our founder Bill Danforth in 2014 because he thought that Tom would bring vision, energy, and a record of success to the creation of a new organization. He has served with distinction, and the Board thanks him and welcomes him as our new chairman.” 

With nearly 50 years of experience in the intersection of science and public service, Grumbly was the recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1997 for his work in reducing international commerce in nuclear weapons material as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy. He has held senior operating and staff positions in the Executive Branch, the Congress, the non-profit sector, and with the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

“As we enter a new phase for the SoAR Foundation, our mission has to expand,” said Thomas Grumbly. “The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the progress we have made in ending hunger just as climate change tightens its grip on the agricultural sector around the world. Science can solve this urgent crisis, but only if we invest now. We cannot rely on yesterday’s solutions and a business-as-usual approach to see our way through.” 


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About the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation
The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation leads a non-partisan coalition working to educate stakeholders about the importance of agricultural research. For the past seven years, SoAR has supported increased investments to encourage top scientists to create agricultural solutions that improve public health and food security, and enhance economic competitiveness. For more information, please visit www.supportagresearch.org.


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