Retired military officials told lawmakers this week that worldwide food stability poses a serious threat to U.S. national security, arguing that more emphasis needs to be placed on farming careers.

National Guard Col. Eric Ahlness, National Guard Maj. Gen. Darren Owens and Army Maj. Gen. James Sholar, all retired, testified Thursday before the House Agriculture Committee about the growth needed in the American agricultural sector. Practices learned there that can benefit farmers overseas, helping to alleviate the potential for conflicts over scarce resources, they said.

"We have to be good global citizens," Sholar said. "What we have to do as a nation, give them the fish or teach them how to fish, we have to do both."

Only about two percent of the U.S. population work in farming today, Sholar said. He and lawmakers noted that as that number decreases, so does the risk of vulnerability in the nation's food supply.

"From the USDA we know we need about 100,000 more farmers in the next 10 to 15 years, the average age of farmers is just shy of 60 now," said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., a retired Army colonel.

Owens said without a strong American agriculture sector, "we would be dependent on other nations."

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have made a push in recent years to target veterans for open farming careers, noting that 45 percent of veterans come from rural areas. Various nonprofit organizations have offered similar programs, many of which do not require prior previous farming experience.

But Sholar, who is also an agronomy professor, said results so far have been mixed. Many recruits are interested in the agriculture industry, but getting individuals to actually take over farming work remains difficult.

The retired officers noted the expected jump in global population in coming years only adds to the importance of stable farming practices, saying food instability can add additional stress to regions already in conflict.

The global population is estimated to grow from seven billion to nine billion people by 2050, reported all three retired officers.

"[Starving] people are more likely to become extremists," said Ahlness, who led an agribusiness development team to Afghanistan in 2011. The team taught local farmers to build co-ops and grow alternative crops to fit the climate.

Sholar added that "if you're hungry, nothing to do, no resources, that makes [populations] more vulnerable to be attracted to these [terrorist] groups."

Owens stated that as "discontent" increases in destabilized regions from food insecurity, food, drug, weapons and human trafficking are expected to rise as well.

The end goal is to not only make developing countries self-sustainable and stable, but also to create a future trading partner to the United States, the officers said.

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