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KNOXVILLE — Jimmy G. Cheek, chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an expert in agricultural and natural resources, spoke today at a meeting of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) held at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

The two-day meeting marks the launch of the IFDC’s Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC), a new global research effort which seeks to develop and commercialize new clean, cost-effective and renewable fertilizer and improved processes. Cheek is chair of the VFRC.

New and improved fertilizers are critical elements in the effort to help feed the world’s growing population, provide sustainable global food security and protect the environment, he explained.

Cheek was senior vice president of agricultural and natural resources at the University of Florida before becoming chancellor of the UT Knoxville campus in 2009.

“The need for innovative fertilizer research is a global issue that calls for a global response,” he said. “No ‘new’ fertilizer product has been developed in the last 25 years that is affordable for use on food crops in less developed countries.”

He said there are widespread deficiencies in micronutrients — boron, chlorine, cooper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.

“Research has already shown that enriching fertilizers with micronutrients not only has an impact in alleviating plant deficiencies but also makes a difference for humans and animals,” he said.

The VFRC will partner with universities, public and private research laboratories and the global fertilizer and agribusiness industries to bring together the best scientific, business and government minds to tackle the issue. Startup funding for the center was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Advisory board members hail from countries that include the U.S., Kenya, The Netherlands, India, France and China.

“In the end, we will create a research system that produces more food with fewer wasted resources and a reduced environmental impact,” Cheek said.

Cheek said there are more than 1 billion hungry people in the world. The world population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to serve their needs.

“More than 60 percent of the undernourished population lives in seven countries: Bangladesh, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 265 million of the world’s undernourished population,” Cheek said. “Hunger is on the rise in many developing countries even through world cereal production is at the second-highest level ever.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)