Global Food Security Depends on Modern Agricultural Techniques

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Studies released at a symposium in Washington, D.C., underscored the wide range of benefits modern agriculture has provided to society and emphasized the importance of continued innovation and new technologies to meet growing global food, feed, fibre and industrial needs.

Research presented by a diverse group of experts in agriculture, economics, conservation, and food security detailed how technological advancements employed on farms and across the food chain have provided an abundant, safe, affordable food supply while fostering economic development by enabling fewer and fewer people to produce the food society requires.

“Modern agriculture offers a range of benefits, including greater production and higher incomes for farmers — including small producers — in both developed and developing countries. Technical advances also have sharply reduced environmental impacts, enabling reduced pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use, less tillage, and less land and water use per output unit—all decreasing pressure on fragile global ecosystems,” said Bill Motes, agricultural economist. ”Agricultural development has brought improved living standards as smaller shares of disposable income are needed to purchase food, as well as enhancing social stability as food insecurity is avoided.”

“Too often, science and technology get short shrift, along with the private sector’s contributions. We cannot meet the food and other requirements of a larger, more affluent global society without the scientific advances that underpin modern agriculture,” said Michel Petit of the Institut Agronomique Mediterraneen in Montpellier, France. ”The world has seen impressive growth in global agriculture in the past decades. As we face growing global demands and increasing resource constraints, agriculture must become more sustainable.”

The full scope of the enormous challenge facing global agriculture in the coming decades was evident from projections presented by John Kruse, a Global Insights economist. His study provided detailed projections for more than a dozen major crops in the world’s important producing and consuming regions. His projections indicated that overall crop demand will expand by approximately 85% to 2050.

Another study indicated that other considerations are now more prominent and must be factored into the future challenge.

“For 50 years, we have expanded food production by converting natural habitat at 0.4 per cent annually. If we assume the ‘business as usual’ case for expanding into natural habitat, there will be very little left by 2050,” said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund. ”To feed 9 billion people and maintain the planet, we must freeze the footprint of food. The Earth’s resources are finite. If we exceed the planet’s carrying capacity, we are taking away the very resource base that will be needed by our children and our grandchildren.”

To examine the implications of freezing agriculture’s footprint, IHS Global Insight calculated the crop yield increases necessary to meet global demand if the total crop area is fixed at the current level.

“Holding crop area fixed and assuming only historical yield growth, food production will fall far short of the needs by 2050,” said John Kruse. “Meeting those needs with the same land area would require global crop yields to increase nearly 25 per cent faster than historically.”

William G. Lesher, Executive Director of the Global Harvest Initiative, noted that other resources used in agriculture may also become more constraining.

“In addition to land, the availability of freshwater will increasingly be a limiting factor, necessitating that productivity rates accelerate even faster,” said Lesher. ”We need a significant boost in water-use efficiency, what some call a ‘Blue Revolution,’ to stretch our scarce water supplies significantly.”

The studies examined a range of potential solutions for meeting these challenges, agreeing that progress will come through various efforts, including improved public policies, increased infrastructure investment, and new technology.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) emphasized the need for a renewed focus on agriculture development and increased political will for change if we are to succeed in creating a more secure world.

“World peace will not be built on empty stomachs or human misery; a world in which 40 per cent of the total population is marginalized in the global economy is not one where peace or environmental stewardship will prosper,” said Lugar. ”Modern agriculture is not the nemesis of the environment or socio-economic development; instead, it is one of their greatest allies.”

Christopher Dowswell, for 31 years aide de camp to the Green Revolution’s Norman Borlaug, concurred, adding that while developing new crop varieties to increase potential yield is absolutely necessary, it is far from sufficient.

“In attempting to bring the Green Revolution to Africa, for instance, agricultural experts developed impressive packages of technology during the 1980s that, on farmers’ demonstration plots, produced yields two-to-three times higher than average,” said Dowswell, who is now with the Sasakawa Africa Association. ”Yet a Green Revolution failed to take off because Africa, unlike Asia and parts of Latin America, lacked roads, railroads, power grids, irrigation systems, market institutions to deliver seed and fertilizer and to handle the increased harvests, and farmer incentives from governments to encourage modernization.”

While the studies described the progress already made, they also underscored the tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done.

In summarizing the day’s discussion, William Lesher said: “It is clear that we have a productivity gap going forward, a gap that we must begin now to close. If we are to double agricultural output by 2050 and do so with basically the same amount of land and water as we have today—while also reducing the environmental footprint—then clearly, we must become more productive than we have been in the past. That is the productivity gap. That is our challenge!”

The Global Harvest Initiative is dedicated to spurring the development and sharing of agricultural innovations with those who need it most. Members include Archer Daniels Midland Company, Conservation International, DuPont, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, John Deere, Monsanto, TransFarm Africa Corridors Network, and World Wildlife Fund. Further support is welcome from public and private sector entities sharing the goal of closing the global productivity gap.

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Source: Global Harvest Initiative

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